Federal Way residents and business owners are concerned about the negative impacts efforts to address homelessness are having on the community.
Business owners along 13th Place South say for the past year the have dealt with an increase in problems associated with the Federal Way Day Center.
“This not just we don’t want them around,” Christie Bain, a stylist at Shear Magic Hair and Nail Design, said during a recent interview. “They are actually causing damage to our properties. We are subject to used condoms, heroin needles, human waste. This is all outside of our back door.”
Residents who live near New Hope Community Church, which has been serving the homeless for nine year and recently opened its doors as a temporary overnight shelter for families, expressed similar concerns.
“Over the years, we have seen increased transient traffic, trash such as beer bottles and needles on the playground, a person passed out on the lawn next to (Mirror Lake Elementary) school, people sleeping in cars along the walking routes while waiting for the shelters to open, homeless foot traffic through our neighborhoods,” Anna Patrick, who lives near New Hope, said during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
Day Center impact on businesses
Business owners near the day center, 33505 13th Place S., had concerns before the center, which serves homeless men and women, opened in December 2016.
“We knew this was going to happen. It fell on deaf ears,” said Tim Anderson, a member of Marht and Associates, a certified public accounting firm.
Anderson’s business partner, Jackie Muth, brought the issue before city officials during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“We have all heard the kudos for the Federal Way Day Center in the last couple of weeks,” said Muth, whose office is just down the street from the day center at 33308 13th Place South. “That is not our feeling. We, the businesses on 13th Place South, have had a year of utter frustration filled with fires, vandalism, theft, shopping carts of garbage on our property on a day-to-day basis. We don’t know what we will encounter as we come to work.”
Muth said last month a man was sleeping under a tarp in her building’s parking lot. Police were called and he was served a trespass notice, but it took him an hour and a half to leave, she said.
“The day center needs to be placed elsewhere,” Muth told the council. “It was not a good idea two years ago when it started, and it is still not a good idea.”
Caroline Hoover, a stylist at Shear Magic Hair and Nail Design, 15000 S. 336th St., told the City Council on Jan. 16 the ongoing issues with the day center are causing businesses to consider leaving.
“We are thinking of leaving because we can’t get help,” she said. “We feel like we are being pinched out of that area.”
Mayor Jim Ferrell said in an interview that the city is working with the local businesses.
“We made it clear to all the business owners, if you have problems reach out to us. We will take care of it right away,” Ferrell said. “Over the course of the past year, any complaint we get we immediately tell the police or I’ll tell code compliance or public works ‘go get that litter picked up’ or ‘go take care of that.’ If there is something ongoing we will certainly address that.”
Last summer, the city cleared out a large homeless encampment in a wooded area along South 336th Street, but Muth said the problems continue.
“On a day-to-day basis we deal with this and you can’t call the police for every issue that we have,” she said, adding that the city has been responsive. “We’ve had a lot of issues.”
Anderson and Muth said Catholic Community Services, which operates the day center, needs to be held more accountable for the behavior of its clients.
Lisa Christen, program director for Catholic Community Services, said the day center tries to be responsive to concerns.
“We send our staff out within the same block and send clients and staff out to pick up the alley, pick up anything we find,” she said. “We have worked really hard in engaging the clients to understanding this is a place of business.”
There are no immediate plans to relocate the day center, Christen said.
“We felt it was the right move to go where folks were, where other services were readily available,” she said, referring to the Multi-Service Center and Federal Way Public Health Center.
Ferrell said the day center is an important piece to addressing homelessness.
“What we want to do is to provide a safe location where they can get cleaned up and get some food, get some referrals, get their bearings and then go somewhere they can legally be,” he said. “In the process, though, they need to be mindful, the folks that are the sponsors of this, of the impact on their neighbors.”
Bain said the business owners aren’t against helping those in need.
“We don’t have issues with the people who are seeking help, families who have lost their job things of that nature,” she said. “We have no issues with people who are seeking out help.”
New Hope shelter concerns
Last year, Ferrell created the Homeless Mothers and Children Initiative (HMCI), which is co-chaired by Deputy Mayor Susan Honda and community member Sharry Edwards, with the primary goal of providing an overnight shelter for homeless families, which was lacking in the city.
On Jan. 17, New Hope Christian Fellowship, 31411 Sixth Ave. S., started sheltering families overnight and will continue to do so through March.
Before opening the overnight services, New Hope provided an emergency shelter for men and women during inclement weather, as well as showers, laundry services and meal outreach for the homeless during the week, which it continues to do.
A man who identified himself as Mr. Patrick, told the City Council on Tuesday he supports New Hope’s outreach to families.
“What we are opposed to are the unintended consequences that are associated with that outreach, such as transients pushing shopping carts through our neighborhood, trespassing on private property,” he said. “We cannot became so focused on helping the homeless that we turn a blind eye on the impact it is having on our community.”
Residents near New Hope don’t feel safe, Patrick said.
“Kids do not want to play at the school on the weekends; people do not want to take their dogs on a walk for fear of being victimized,” he said. “It is not the homeless we have an issue with. It is the criminal elements that draw to the homelessness. We understand this is a complicated issue with no easy answers.”
Residents want the city to install additional lighting and Safe City cameras near the church and to clean up trash in the area.
Mike Roberts, who also lives near New Hope, said at first he was angry about the New Hope shelter, but now he is OK with it as long as background checks are conducted on those who utilize the services.
“By conducting these background checks, we can rest assured that New Hope church and its community is not welcoming convicted felons, rapists, pedophiles and other sexual predators into our neighborhood,” he said.
Ferrell said he will have city staff follow up on the issues and report back to the council at the Feb. 20 meeting.
At an HMCI meeting last week, Ferrell said he plans to convene a task force to look into homelessness.
City Council member Dini Duclos said it is important for the city to address the concerns of the business community.
“If this keeps up we will lose them all, and we can’t afford to lose businesses from our community because they are the backbone of our finances,” she said.
Duclos said the community needs to work together to find a solution.
“I think we can do better,” she said. “I think we can get together, maybe have a study session with churches, with businesses, maybe with other groups and come up with some kind of plan we can work. We are not going to solve the whole thing, but maybe we can get a handle on it and make things better for everybody.”