Tacoma may soon have another option for its homeless population: temporary homeless camps. The city of Tacoma is considering amendments to city code that would regulate where and how tent camps operate.
A state law passed in 2010 authorizes religious organizations to host temporary homeless camps on property owned or controlled by the organization. City of Tacoma planning and housing officials are looking to Tent City 3 in Seattle and Tent City 4 in Sammamish as models for how to establish rules for camps.
These regulations include a maximum occupancy of 100 residents per camp, a limit of two camps operating within the city, a minimum number of showers and parking spaces, and considerations for public awareness.
“This is just another tool in the toolbox,” Tacoma Councilmember Lauren Walker said of the proposed rules. She said a tent camp is currently unnecessary in Tacoma, “But we want to make sure we have regulations in place if there is a larger homeless need.”
A 2013 point-in-time count found 120 unsheltered people in Pierce County.
Colin DeForrest, the city of Tacoma’s homeless services manager, said in an email interview that the city of Tacoma is setting aside money to provide services to homeless people.
Neil Rogers, a founding member of Tent City Tacoma, said city officials are doing a good job trying to help homeless people, but it’s not enough.
“There are still gaps in the system,” he said.
Tent City Tacoma, a group advocating for encampments, has been involved in creating regulations for Tacoma. The group has offered to partner with a church to help establish a camp in the city.
Tent camps are an alternative, Rogers said, to the restrictions imposed by indoor shelters. Shelters have curfews, religious affiliation and other requirements that may keep some people from using them.
Tent camps involve members in operations and in establishing community standards. In this way, tent camps have the potential to be a unique and positive space, Rogers said.
City of Tacoma Principal Planner John Harrington said in his visits to Tent City 3 and 4, he was impressed with how members were involved in self-regulating the camps, earning their keep and adhering to rules. A main policy of these seasoned camps was to be a good neighbor to the neighborhood they were in and to create goodwill, Harrington said.
“In Tacoma, we’re trying to emulate all the best practices of these other camps already in existence,” Harrington said.
Rogers, of Tent City Tacoma, agrees that King County’s tent camps are a good model for Tacoma.
“It’s going to be an organized thing, and it’s going to be designed specifically to gather all the scattered camps around here and get them into one place so they can start getting resources and start getting help,” he said.
“We’re here to get you into a warm and safe place where you can be empowered to take responsibility and accountability for your own life,” Rogers said.
Final changes to the amendment will be voted on at the first reading April 15. The Tacoma City Council will make its final vote on the ammendment April 22.