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Security Costs Could Shutter Puyallup Homeless Center, Director Says

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Courtesy of the New Hope Resource Center

Operators of Puyallup's only drop-in center serving homeless people say proposed security regulations could force them to shut down, following months of tension with neighbors.

Some residents say homeless people seeking help at the New Hope Resource Center have brought drugs and crime to downtown Puyallup. 

In September, city officials proposed a list of security requirements they may impose as a condition of the center's 2017 license. 

Paula Anderson, the center's executive director, said one proposed requirement that the center hire a  security guard would cost $7,500 a month -- doubling the center's monthly budget of about $7,000 -- and could force the organization to shut down. 

"I don't know exactly what the intent was, but what I feel is that we have been doing a lot in the community to help homeless adults," she said. "That is not necessarily a popular thing in this area." 

Assistant City Manager Steve Kirkelie said officials want to strike a balance between the center's needs and neighbors' fears.

"The goal isn't to shut New Hope down," he said. "The goal is to mitigate the impact of New Hope on the community. New Hope is providing a service they believe is needed, and the neighbors want to live in a community they feel is safe." 

Kirkelie said city staff are reviewing comments on the proposed regulations and will unveil a final version in a few weeks. Proposed conditions also include a fence around the center and a hotline where residents with concerns can reach New Hope staff.

New Hope opened in 2014 as homelessness was rising throughout Western Washington, including Puyallup. Encampments had grown near the banks of the Puyallup River and in the area's Foothills Trail. 

The center, funded by churches and donations, provides food and basic supplies and connects people with health and job services.

Anderson said she believes some of tension with neighbors comes from misdirected blame and fear.

For instance, she said, people sometimes shout, "Get a job," while driving past the center but many of the people seeking help there suffer from mental illness. She also disputes the number of police calls that city officials attribute to the site. 

"I think it's a lack of information and the community not being aware of what it means to be homeless, who the homeless are," she said. "And so every ill thing that happened in the community, such as heroin addiction, people getting their things stolen, burglaries -- everything was blamed on the homeless." 

Will James reports and produces special projects, including podcasts and series, for KNKX. He created and hosted the Outsiders podcast, chronicling homelessness in Olympia for more than a year, in partnership with The Seattle Times.
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