The City of Tacoma is getting ready to roll out the $2.1 million second phase of its emergency homeless plan – a temperature controlled outdoor homeless shelter on Portland Avenue East and Puyallup Avenue that’s expected to up by June 26.
"This larger fabric structure will actually give us space where we can house people comfortably," said Deputy Tacoma Fire Chief Tory Green. "It is a similar type of structure that the military uses to house either people or equipment."
City officials are trying to avoid the term “tent city” to describe the shelter.
"I think ‘tent city’ comes with a lot of negative connotations, and that's not the intent of what we're trying to do. I think what we’re trying to do is provide mitigation for people that are suffering from homelessness and there are a lot of people who are in that situation, and we’re trying to provide them with resources to get them to a better situation,” said Green.
For the last few weeks, dozens of people have been living in tents on 18th Street and Portland Avenue East. It’s an area known as the compound. The City of Tacoma invested more than $300,000 for the site to serve as a temporary location and improve the health and safety of its growing homeless population.
For people like David Link, it was a necessary first step to get him out of homelessness.
"I mean they got policemen here, Port-O-Pottys, place to wash your hands. I mean, who does that? It’s been amazing to see what Tacoma has really done," said Link.
Link said he plans to move to the temporary emergency shelter once it’s up.
"I saw it yesterday,” he said. “I went over there. I saw the back of the building. I saw that it was paved. It looks like it’s going to be a nice area, and I need a little bit more time."
The shelter will have tents inside and per Green, preliminary estimates indicate it will house a maximum of 65 people.
Inside there will be case management services and outreach services connecting people with resources they need, whether it be chemical dependency related issues, medical issues, or housing issues.
The third and possibly last phase of the city’s emergency plan is expected to be the development of transitional housing, which could include tiny houses. At this point, city leaders say it’s too early to say if this plan has been a positive investment.
“I would argue this was a necessary investment,” said Deputy Mayor Robert Toms. “What was happening before wasn’t acceptable to me. It wasn’t acceptable to most people in Tacoma, and I don’t think it was acceptable to most Americans who don’t like to see people sleeping on the street.”
Last month, the City of Tacoma passed an ordinance declaring a public health emergency following the cleanup of what had become one of the largest homeless encampments, the Tacoma Jungle. Since then, city leaders say it’s been all hands-on deck.
“I thought I had a pretty good understanding of homelessness and I didn’t,” Green said. “And actually going through this process eight hours a day at work and 24 days in my mind, I’ve been thinking about how we can really create a system that’s really helpful and effective and beneficial for people suffering from homelessness.”