Following an outpouring of concerns from business owners and concerned residents over the number of homeless people in Federal Way, city and community officials have opened discussions to identify possible solutions.
Businesses owners near the Federal Way Day Center, 33505 13th Place S., and residents near New Hope Christian Fellowship Church, 31411 Sixth Ave. S., which provides services to homeless including a temporary overnight shelter for families, shared their frustrations with increases in crime and trash near the facilities at the Feb. 6 City Council meeting.
In response, Mayor Jim Ferrell and other city representatives visited the day center and New Hope following that meeting and met again with business owners. Ferrell provided an update at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“Tuesday, we gathered up a significant number of those individual businesses that have been affected and that have been concerned about the day center and its impact in that area,” Ferrell said.
Timothy Anderson, a certified public accountant with Mahrt and Associates, which has offices at 33308 13th Place S., was among about a dozen business owners that met with the mayor.
Anderson said, while he is optimistic about the city’s commitment to work with business owners, he would like to see the day center relocated.
“There are so many things we have questions about,” he said. “We just don’t feel there is a lot of thought given to this.”
Councilman Martin Moore said it is important for the city to work with the business owners.
“It is my opinion that the day center needs to stay,” he said. “There is a service that is being offered that is critically important. At the same time, I am very eager to see a plan of a new method, a new idea and a real commitment in the next phase from Catholic Community Services in really addressing the business concerns.
“It is my hope that later in the year, we hear businesses saying ‘yes, this is addressing our concerns and we see a significant, positive outcome out of these efforts,’” he added.
While representatives from Catholic Community Services, which operates the day center, were not at the meeting with businesses, Ferrell said bringing them into the conversation is the next step.
Bill Hallerman, director of Catholic Community Services of King County, said at Tuesday’s council meeting that he wants to meet with business owners near the day center.
“CCS looks forward to meeting with all those folks over the next few weeks to see what we can do together and also help the impact on the community that this crisis has given us,” he said.
The community needs to work together to address the homelessness crisis, Hallerman said.
“We have to resist the temptation to blame the day centers and shelters for causing homelessness – just like we don’t blame food banks for causing hunger or HealthPoint for causing illness or Valley Cities for causing mental illness,” he said. “It is a struggle. It is hard. It is difficult in our community, but we only get there if we pull that group of folks together and do what we can.”
Crime up near day center
Federal Way Police Department Deputy Chief Steve Neal said, since the day center opened in December 2016, there has been an increase in crime in the area, which can be attributed to the growing numbers in the homeless population.
Crime was up 71 percent from 2016 to 2017 in the reporting districts in the area surrounding the day center, and the number of calls for service in the same area was up 52 percent.
“Shelters and day centers … attract homeless who come to take advantage of the offered resources,” Neal said. “Something that comes along with that is that the homeless will try to camp as close to those resources as they can, to include city streets, parks, vacant land and surrounding buildings.”
The types of crimes vary but include harassment and trespassing, Neal said.
The department responds to all the calls it receives as quickly as it can, Neal said, and has increased patrols in the area.
The five officers assigned to the special operations unit spend about 95 percent of their time addressing homelessness issues, Neal said.
“On top of that, what we do is we have our evening and graveyard officers try to swing through there as often as they can because not only are there camps, but any overhang, anybody’s doorway, people are going to camp there and maybe get up in the morning and migrate to the day center,” he said. “We are constantly going through there.”