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Advocates creating alternative approach to address homelessness in Tacoma

Tacoma is removing a homeless encampment in the downtown area, but city outreach workers said none of the individuals living there accepted services for shelters

TACOMA, Wash. — The city of Tacoma started the process of removing another homeless encampment this week.

People living in the area of South Second Street and Tacoma Avenue were given a week's notice, but Tacoma’s outreach teams said their offer to help connect people to nearby shelters was turned down.

Theresa Power-Drutis, a member of the Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness, said the hesitancy stems from the city not going far enough to create an environment that truly addresses people’s needs, which can’t be solved with just a bed.

“I don’t think it’s going to be possible to make an unacceptable solution acceptable just by wishing for it,” she said. “I think the solution isn’t about sleeping on a mat with a bin of your belongings being more acceptable, the solution is about having alternative options for people.”

Monique Brown is working on one of those alternatives.

Her organization, Forward Operating Base Hope, is setting up a sanctioned campsite in Tacoma to help get Pierce County’s homeless veterans housed.

Because the campsite is sanctioned by the city, residents won’t have to worry about getting removed from the area, which Brown said can make getting in touch with people difficult. This way, when housing is ready, she knows where to find those that need it.

“When you got people out on the streets in different locations, they’re getting pushed one way or the other, they don’t want to leave their items because theft is real out in the streets. So, they end up stuck in this little area, in their own little world,” Brown said. “Providing a space for people to rest their head and not have to worry about where the next meal is coming from, not worried about where they’re going to get pushed to, and just focus on themselves and the whole person is what FOB Hope will be focusing on.”

Brown said there are about 315 veterans who’re homeless in Pierce County. She hopes the site will give her fellow veterans the space to gather themselves while they plan their next move.

“If you have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, or where you’re going to sleep, and are you going to freeze tonight, then you can’t focus on what’s coming next and how to change your future," Brown said. "So, this type of sanctioned encampment allows people to be able to do that.”

The city of Tacoma announced Tuesday that more sweeps will be taking place later this month. Several encampments along J Street will be removed for a city project to install new sewer and water mains in the surrounding area.

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