A community center in the neighboring limits of Northeast Tacoma will soon become a temporary warming shelter for homeless individuals, and local residents are wondering how Federal Way may be impacted.
In a joint effort between the City of Tacoma and Metro Parks Tacoma, the Center at Norpoint is set to open as a warming shelter for single women and couples by Jan. 22 or Jan. 25, according to a Jan. 14 City of Tacoma council meeting.
As of Jan. 21, officials do not have an opening date set for the warming shelter, said Megan Snow, communications specialist for the City of Tacoma.
The Center at Norpoint is tucked into a residential area bordered by Federal Way. Though the NE Tacoma area has one police substation and one fire station, there are no hospitals.
In case of shelter guests experiencing medical emergencies, it is possible the patients may be transported to St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. However, that is the decision of medical responders and is dependent on the severity of the emergency.
Tacoma city officials say low acuity emergencies will likely result in transportation to Federal Way’s hospital, whereas more severe incidents may require transportation to Tacoma General and St. Joseph Medical Center, which also serve as Pierce County trauma centers.
South King Fire and Rescue is not expecting any impacts to the department or its services, said Capt. Brad Chaney of SKFR. A mutual aid agreement with Pierce County will have South King crews respond to major incidents requiring extensive personnel and equipment. However, SKFR crews have only responded to three incidents in the Tacoma area in the past few years, Chaney said.
When questions and concerns arose from residents, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell spoke with City of Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards to inquire about the warming shelter plans, said Steve McNey, communications and government affairs coordinator for the City of Federal Way.
Except in the rare case of a major emergency, Federal Way officers will not be responding to incidents at the NE Tacoma warming shelter, nor will Federal Way officers be required to police the area, McNey said.
If issues arise or if residents develop other concerns once guests have arrived at the shelter, McNey said they will not go unheard.
“When there’s a concern, we’ll bring it to the Tacoma council or Tacoma mayor as a courtesy [to] relay. It’s not like it’s going into an empty bucket,” McNey said. “It’s always good to know what’s happening on your borders.”
News of the warming shelter fostered tense controversy between the city and NE Tacoma residents, some of whom expressed concerns over security measures, background checks or drug testing on shelter visitors, and the potential of increased crime in the area.
The Center at Norpoint, located at 4818 Nassau Ave. NE, is one of four community centers operated by Metro Parks Tacoma that were forced to temporarily close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The partnership previously opened additional warming shelters for homeless individuals, including at Eastside Community Center (1721 E. 56th St.), which is another Metro Parks site.
At the Jan. 14 meeting, city officials announced several changes to the original plan, prompted by the flood of resident questions from emails, calls, public comments and social media posts.
The temporary warming shelter is planned to operate 24 hours a day by reservation and referrals only, with a door closure policy of 7 p.m. and quiet hours beginning at 9 p.m. As opposed to the original closure date of March 31, the warming shelter is expected to close by Feb. 28.
At a capacity of 25 people per night, the warming shelter is open to single women and couples ages 18 and over. Children and pets are not allowed. Background checks will be completed by Valeo Vocation, a Tacoma-based nonprofit helping people experiencing homelessness gain employment and permanent housing.
In addition to protection from inclement weather, the warming shelter provides guests with three hot meals daily, sleeping mats and blankets, showers and face masks.
As a community health and fitness center, the warming shelter at Norpoint will include the basketball gym area for day and overnight use, along with restrooms and a large banquet room that will be used for meals, according to a City of Tacoma FAQ page about the warming center updated Jan 15.
Norpoint’s other rooms, such as the pool, workout rooms, rockwall area and other sports courts, will be locked and shelter guests will not be able to access the amenities.
With the shelter’s expected operation date through Feb. 28, the city says this will allow Metro Parks “time to prepare the facility for re-opening of recreational use under the Healthy Washington Roadmap to Recovery Phase 2, which is expected on April 1, 2021,” according to the FAQ page.
The City of Tacoma says the site will be managed by Valeo Vocation, which will also work closely with the Tacoma Police Department to address community concerns or site issues, said Allyson Griffith, assistant director of Neighborhood and Community Services for the City of Tacoma.
“The City of Tacoma does not expect the operation of the Center at Norpoint as a temporary warming center to have a significant impact on the City of Federal Way or its residents,” Griffith said, adding that the city has “received several email and phone inquiries from residents of Federal Way,” and have provided those individuals with information on the city’s website and FAQ document.
Residents with questions about the warming center can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 253-591-5000.