Neighbors of Tacoma's micro shelter village for homeless raise questions on security

TACOMA – The City of Tacoma is taking another step toward tackling its own homeless crisis. Thursday, nearly two dozen micro shelters, commonly referred to as “tiny homes,” started going up in the city's Hilltop neighborhood.

Pink spray paint outlined where each tiny home will be placed in a lot, located at 802 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Tacoma. The emergency shelter village is about a block away from an encampment at People’s Park.

Residents like Michael Bingham and Robert Cline will see the tiny homes directly next to their backyards. They say they’re worried issues at the encampment will carry over into the tiny home village.

“The stuff that goes on over there at night— I mean there’s yelling and screaming and people cussing each other out, threatening each other. It’s pretty crazy,” said Cline. “We’ve had break-ins throughout the neighborhood all the way down to Sprague. People coming, busting into houses, getting money and they’re running back to the homeless camp.”

“We have to stop. We have to literally hold these people accountable. I’m sorry you’re homeless, but that does not mean you’re not accountable for society and society’s laws. You do not have the right to do whatever you want and say oh I’m homeless! Poor me!” said Bingham.

Blueprints of the site show developers will add a fence around the village and will have security on-site 24/7. Management will also be present. The village will be equipped with portable toilets, garage service, hand washing stations and drinking water. City leaders say up to 35 people will be able to live at the site after being referred by an outreach coordinator and agreeing to a code of conduct.

People like Cline say they’re worried if enough will be done to keep the drama at tent city out of the village and their neighborhood.

“In theory, I’m not opposed to it. But I am opposed to it if it’s just to get that problem out of that situation and move over there and they end up doing the same thing,” said Cline. “I have a lot of sympathy for homeless people. But I don’t have sympathy for homeless people who have chosen to be homeless because it’s part of this lifestyle of steal and use and rip-off and boost.”

The city budgeted $388,000 for the village from its General Fund. In a public meeting Wednesday, some voters argued the city isn’t doing enough to address the growing homeless crisis. Mayor Victoria Woodards says some people may not know about the $10.2 million the city has invested in services and programs to address the issue.

“We are doing something. Is it enough? It’s not enough until every homeless person has a place to go. And as a council we recognize that, and staff recognizes that. But it takes time and processes and we’re working as fast and as quickly as we can to do as much as we can to solve this problem,” said Woodards. “We’re making the investment. And of that $10.2 million, only less than one percent of that is not already committed.”

Though the micro shelters are a start, Woodards says it’s not a cure-all. Residents say a real solution would be affordable housing in a real home.

“Until we accomplish that, we don’t have a place for these people to afford to live, then we’re going to have to put up with this,” said Bingham. “Get some studio and one-bedrooms that we can rent out at $400-$500 a month. So, if you have $700 with your food stamps and $200 in cash left after you pay rent, you can survive.”

People experiencing homelessness will be able to stay in the tiny homes for up to seven months. Though the tent ban was issued on Dec. 1 in Tacoma, the mayor says she’s still working with outreach coordinators to clear the encampment from People’s Park. She says the city will not enforce the structures' prohibition until there are places they can direct people to go.

The City of Tacoma has resources about homelessness in your area on their website.