News

Tent cities are okay for a while

By PAT JENKINS

The Mirror

Tent cities should remain a temporary solution to homelessness in King County, an advisory committee told county officials last week.

While that recommendation is supported by a majority of the Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Homeless Encampments, the members are divided on whether the camps should be on public or private land.

Both issues are part of the controversy that erupted earlier this year over tent cities in the east area of the county, leading to the commission’s appointment in June by the Metropolitan King County Council to help shape county policies on homelessness.

The commission’s recommendations, released Sept. 7 by the council, include:

• Homelessness should be the responsibility of all jurisdictions countywide.

• Tent cities won’t solve or end homelessness, but 14 of the commission’s 22 members agreed the makeshift camps are needed, as long as they’re short-term and are disbanded when there is enough housing for homeless people.

• Nearby governments and communities must play a role in the placement of camps and must offer formal opportunities for public input.

• Shelters generally don’t meet the needs of the homeless for treatment and supportive services.

The latter view is shared by Dini Duclos, chief executive officer of Multi-Service Center, which includes a shelter and related services in its non-profit social programs that are based in Federal Way.

But Duclos, a member of the commission, believes any encampments should be only on private property. Only half the members believe public and private land should be made available.

Duclos also opposes tent cities outright. She said officials should find “more permanent solutions,” such as turning apartments into transitional shelters and paying the building owners for their use.

Job-training and mental health services should be part of helping people get off the streets, and Multi-Service Center could help with that, she added.

Demand for the center’s shelter serving south King County far exceeds its space. For every family that’s admmitted, about a dozen are turned away for lack of room, according to officials.

Federal Way has no tent cities of the type in other parts of the county that have drawn protests from permanent residents of neighboring communities. Police here have broken up smaller encampments in recent years.

The council wants County Executive Ron Sims to use the advisory commission’s findings in official policies, including placing camps on public and private property under certain conditions.

Councilwoman Carolyn Edmonds said the “challenge” of accommodating homeless people “is bigger than government or the private sector. We need a community-wide effort to create a communitywide solution.”

That effort should include local government, churches, the homeless themselves “and all citizens,” said Councilman Larry Phillips.

In the interim, tent cities, while “not the best solution,” are a better alternative than people sleeping under freeway overpasses or in cars, parks or building alcoves, Phillips said.

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