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Tacoma shuts down homeless encampment to clean and restore park

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TACOMA - Tacoma Police prepared to close down a controversial homeless encampment at People’s Park Tuesday. As part of the City of Tacoma’s tent ban enforcement, campers were required to leave the premises just after dusk.

While people packed up their belongings, officers walked around the encampment reminding people of the deadline. Megan Snow, communications specialist for City of Tacoma, said officers also informed people about resources and services available.

“Tacoma Police will assess each situation as they encounter individuals with the approach to lead with services and resources. The City’s Neighborhood and Community Services Department has staff at the Park offering services and helping coordinate transportation to shelter and storage of people’s belongings as well as coordinating shelter. Tacoma Police Department will continue to be present during the transition,” said Snow.

Once everyone vacates the property, city officials said temporary fencing will be installed as early as Wednesday to close the park. Snow said contractors who specialize in homeless encampment cleanups will clear hazardous waste and debris left behind. Crews estimate the cleanup will be finished early next week.

Tamara Knarr was one of the several people at the encampment. She said she wouldn’t have stayed at the park in the first place if more affordable housing was available.

“It’s just unjustifiable that they don’t have enough housing for people. Even with people that are disabled,” said Knarr. “I’m disabled. So, I don’t think it’s fair that they can’t find me a place to live.”

Larry Sterns said he was one of the first to pitch a tent at People’s Park. Tuesday, he packed up everything he owned, not sure what his next move would be.

“I don’t have no place to go,” said Sterns. “I tried to make plans, but everything fell through. So, I’m still homeless. Anything to get off these streets because I don’t think I’m going to make it this winter. If it snows like last winter, I know I’m not.”

Snow explained the city made sure enough beds were available at area shelters and partners before setting the deadline and enforcing city park code. She said, “The City has identified daily for the past several weeks that shelter capacity is available for the people experiencing homelessness.”

Advocates for people in need walked around the park trying to help them get connected to resources. Tanya Webking of Tacoma Tenants Organizing Committee said she believes the city may have underestimated how many people were in need of a place to stay.

“People are feeling rejected and humiliated by the fact that lawn is more important than they are,” said Webking.

On Jan. 3, the City of Tacoma and Tacoma Police posted a 72-hour notice warning people about the enforcement of the tent ban. In a statement, the City of Tacoma said, “It is the City’s and Metro Park’s goal to connect all people in People’s Park with safe and healthy sheltering options and to restore the park, so that all people can safely access and enjoy it.”

The city partnered with Metropolitan Development Council, Associated Ministries and Tacoma Ministerial Alliance to coordinate service providers, advocates and faith-based communities to add shelter sites throughout Tacoma.

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