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'It's just making everything worse': Residents criticize Tacoma’s repeated encampment removals

Tacoma has seen a significant increase of encampment removals since 2021, but some say the approach may be counterproductive to dealing with homelessness.

TACOMA, Wash. — Theresa Power-Drutis has been living in her Tacoma neighborhood on South G Street for over 40 years. While she’s seen the city change, one thing has remained constant: everyone has been welcomed, including campers and people who were unhoused.

But now she says it’s been hard to maintain that balance in recent months, and the city’s recent round of encampment sweeps aren’t helping.

“We had a fragile balance of community, we had unhoused people, housed people, service providers, and it wasn’t working like clockwork, but it was working,” she said. “But then the city started doing these sweeps…and every time there’s a sweep, we get new people here.”

Now Drutis said her neighborhood is feeling the strain of people crowding onto her street because they have nowhere else to go, pushing out the people who were already there.

“I think we’re at that point now that people will be asking the city to remove people, and to me, that’s just more sad than I can say. But I understand,” Drutis said. “These are not bad people ... it’s just gotten to a point that, when we load everything onto a few neighborhoods, there’s no neighborhood that’s going to be able to carry that.”

Pierce County is also feeling the ripple effects of the encampment sweeps.

Councilmember Jani Hitchen said that as more homeless people are pushed out of Tacoma and into unincorporated Pierce County, they’re pushed farther away from the resources they need, which makes it harder to address the root causes.

“When we look at the number of sweeps and how quickly they’re happening, I know that our social services that could offer support, can’t move as quickly,” Hitchen explained. “We sweep them, and any communications we’ve started to have with them, and any trust that we’ve built up? Shot down, because now they’re in a different community, somewhere else, and we have to start over.”

Now, Drutis hopes that a more lasting solution can be found because continued sweeps aren’t the answer.

“If the intention is to scatter homeless people throughout the county so they can’t get the resources and the people with resources can’t reach them … if the other intention is to push everybody in the poorer neighborhoods and make them containment areas for the homeless and make them invisible to the rest of the city, I think they’re on the right track,” Drutis said. “But if they want to deal with crime, if they want to deal with garbage, if they want to deal with all of the negative effects of being homeless? If they want to make communities whole? They’re absolutely on the wrong track.”

The City of Tacoma announced it will begin cleaning another encampment at the Murray Morgan Bridge on July 12. The city said although its policy allows for a 72-hour notice, the city wanted to announce it early to give people a chance to find shelter before then.

    

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