There are few resources for homeless as Puyallup struggles to find solutions

PUYALLUP, Wash. - Most days lunch is served at New Hope Resource Center.

It’s the only drop in homeless center in the city of Puyallup open for just portions of the day.

“It’s amazing. It’s somewhere, you know, if you are very very hungry, you don’t have to go the store and steal,” Katherine Salinas said.

Salinas was homeless for 5 years and now her baby girl Serenity has been born into challenging circumstances.

Salinas says she’s been dealt a rough life and she turned to drugs to cope with abuse and depression.

“I was addicted to meth and heroin and I was using a needle,” Salinas said.

She says New Hope helped her get on a new path.

Salinas says her drug-induced life is over and she recently got into transitional housing.

“It’s been a big struggle to be clean I’ve been clean for a year and a month now,” Salinas said.

“We help about 5 to 6 people a month to get off the streets,” New Hope Board Member Ric Rose said.

But over time, the relationship between the center and the city of Puyallup has become contentious.

“It’s one thing to say we won’t help you financially it’s another to regulate you out of business,” Rose said.

The city required a business license for New Hope asking the center to hire a security guard, install fencing and to just be a good neighbor.

City leaders say the regulations are for public safety after many in Puyallup have complained about a lot of the negative impacts they say New Hope is bringing into the community.

“When people see needles, feces and nudity that kind of things those kinds of impact the community is concerned about,” council member John Palmer said.

City council member John Palmer is also the mayor.

“There was a lot of spillover from the site in the community,” Palmer said.

Palmer says the city is dealing with increased property crime and altercations ever since New Hope opened along Spring Street 4 years ago.

“We are getting blamed for behaviors of homeless people who are not even guests at our facility,” Rose said.

The tensions landed the two sides in a legal battle.

A hearing examiner upheld most of the city’s requirements against New Hope with the exception of hiring a security guard.

“Our budget right now is $100,000 to hire a security guard it would cost us $75,000 we would have to close our doors for that,” Rose said.

As the dilemma plays out, the city is taking a hard stance on potentially other new homeless centers.

Palmer is among the majority of the city council who voted to require that all new centers be at least 1000 foot away from sensitive places like a school, park, library, and even some homes.

“The regulations are very similar to Bellevue,” Palmer said.

But New Hope Board Member Cheryl Borden says the new regulations mean only the Northwest section of the city is available for service providers.

“It ends up being a heartless situation for the city,” Borden said.

Borden says the inaction of the city council to address homelessness is heartless.

Palmer says the city’s inaction is not heartless they simply want programs that are effective.

He says a drop in centers like New Hope is not the right model for Puyallup.

“Although they are good-hearted it’s kind of perpetuating the problem that yes it’s nice they are helping some people but the community is concerned that fostering the continued problem as well,” Palmer said.

He says the city wants to come up with a comprehensive approach that partners with Pierce County.

“Looking for a model that works for a city like us that’s really the key,” Palmer said.

In the search for those answers, the city hired outreach workers at Comprehensive Life Resources to engage the homeless population.

“Our main goal is to find out why they ended up on the street and what we can do to help them to find appropriate shelter,” Outreach Director James Pogue said.

Pogue says his crew has reached out to 200 people living on the streets. Pogue says a lack of affordable housing is one of the main answers they get when they ask people why they are homeless.

“A little over 30% are suffering from substance abuse as their main criteria of why they are homeless but it’s not the majority no,” Pogue said.

Pogue says about a third of the people they’ve come across is dealing with severe mental illness.

“A lot of the times you get a lot of no’s before you get a yes,” Pogue said.

Palmer says he wants data before throwing money at the issue.

Although Puyallup City Council is passionately polarized on how to solve homelessness, he says most on the council agree that Seattle is not approaching it effectively.

“I see a lot of people in our community sees that’s happening in Seattle and say I don’t want that here,” Palmer said.

But he cautions fear is not the answer he hopes he can bridge the divide both on the council and in the community.

Q13 News asked how Palmer plans to bring the two sides together.

Palmer says he will continue to have tough conversations.

“I don’t think the language is particularly helpful as them versus us, blaming the homeless, let us continue to figure out what works for Puyallup,” Palmer said.

Amid the complexities there is always hope, Salinas says her life is back on track because of the services at New Hope Resource Center.

“Ask for help, people out there, they won’t give up on you,” Salinas said.