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Tacoma leaders consider banning tents in city parks

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Adrian Florez

The City of Tacoma could soon ban temporary structures, such as tents, in city parks. During public comment at the City Council meeting Tuesday night, many people spoke against the ordinance, which would prevent tents or other makeshift dwellings in Tacoma parks — unless expressly authorized.

It’s already illegal to camp overnight in Tacoma parks. But Aaron Pointer, president of the Metro Parks board, says the existing city code needs to be updated because of public safety concerns. 

“A lot of people feel uncomfortable and not safe because of what they encounter with the tents and not being able to know what’s going on in the tents,” he said.

Police currently need a search warrant to enter a tent in a park. That actually prevents outreach to those who are homeless, according to the city manager’s office.

Those who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting overwhelmingly opposed the plan, saying it effectively criminalizes homelessness in city parks. 

“I do not want public safety used as code in my city for refusing to shelter those who have none, by day or by night,” said Maurine Howard, who likened it to Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation. 

The mayor and others on the council said the rule change isn’t intended to target those who are experiencing homelessness — just to keep parks safe. 

The city council will take up the measure for a final reading next week.

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.