PCHSC Statement Against Ordinance #28756

The Pierce County Human Services Coalition has released a statement in opposition of the City of Tacoma’s Ordinance #28756, which would criminalize homelessness in Tacoma:

The Pierce County Human Services Coalition (PCHSC) stands in opposition to Ordinance 28756,
which would criminalize homelessness in Tacoma. PCHSC encourages the City of Tacoma and
all municipalities to meet people experiencing homelessness with compassion rather than
criminalization. The Ordinance seeks to ban individuals from storing “personal property,
including, without limitation, Camp Facilities and Camp Paraphernalia, on any Public Property,”
resulting in misdemeanor charges and/or fines.

PCHSC maintains that the ordinance’s goal to, “provide for and promote the health, safety, and
welfare of the general public and not to create, either expressly or implicitly, or otherwise
establish or designate any particular class or group of persons or individuals who will or should
be especially protected or benefited or discriminated against by the terms of this chapter,” is in
direct opposition to later language establishing penalties for violations. People experiencing
homelessness are part of the general public and their health, safety, and welfare also need to be
provided for and promoted.

This ordinance will harm our houseless neighbors and perpetrate racial inequity. While over 74% of the Pierce County population is white (U.S. Census Bureau), 50% of people experiencing homelessness in our community are people of color. This demonstrates the disparities people of color face in our community. Historic housing discrimination and ongoing impacts of displacement increase barriers to accessing shelter and safety. This ordinance is in direct opposition to Tacoma’s stated values of addressing and ending racism in our community.

This ordinance will only further compound barriers homeless people face when attempting to get jobs, find housing, and/or access services. Though the ordinance states that its purpose is to
“divert calls… requesting enforcement of criminal laws to using these calls for service to locate and provide shelter,” this cannot happen when our homeless services programs are past capacity, stresses from the COVID-19 pandemic, and lack adequate funding.

The first step toward confronting homelessness in Tacoma should be examining why we so often hear that people experiencing homelessness don’t want shelter. This is a myth. It is true that unhoused people refuse shelter that doesn’t allow for their circumstances, but that is a failing of our systems. People accept housing when their needs can be met. We encourage allocating meaningful resources for increasing accessible housing options and supporting services and programs that meet the needs of people where they are at. This is a crucial action the City can and should take. This includes an expansion of all housing options from access to sanitation, emergency shelter, and permanent accessible housing. Notice that we say ‘accessible’, not ‘affordable’. We draw a distinction between housing that is merely meeting the legal standard of affordable housing as opposed to safe opportunities to access housing that take into account the individual circumstances of the unhoused.

Erick Seelbach, Chair
Pierce County Human Services Coalition

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