Homeless encampment at South 8th and Yakima in Tacoma set to be cleared

TACOMA, Wash. — A homeless encampment on South 8th Street and Yakima Avenue is set to be cleared by the city of Tacoma on Sept. 21.

The encampment, which has steadily grown since the beginning of 2020, consists of about 20 tents and 17 people, according to city estimates.

Linda Stewart, director of the city’s Neighborhood and Community Services Department, informed Tacoma City Council members in an email Tuesday about the plans.

“The Homeless Outreach Team provided notice today for individuals at the 8th and Yakima encampment that the location will be cleared on Tuesday, September 21,” Stewart wrote in the email. “The City must begin a construction project in the alleyway immediately adjacent to this encampment, which requires the clearing.”

The city is required to provide at least a 72-hour notice prior to clearing encampments but wanted to use the coming two weeks to conduct outreach to encourage individuals to relocate, Stewart said.

Stewart wrote that the Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness also was notified of the plan.

Theresa Power-Drutis, a member of the coalition and co-executive director of New Connection, which offers women’s housing and other services, expressed her frustration with the plans in an email to City Council and other city leaders Tuesday. She urged the city to open a low-barrier shelter before clearing the camp.

“Without a place to go, we are simply moving people from place to place during a pandemic,” Power-Drutis said in her email.

The city does not have what is often referred to as a “low-barrier” shelter, which typically provides people a bed despite sobriety, criminal backgrounds or lack of identification. City staff are looking at property at 82nd and Pacific Avenue, owned by Tacoma Public Utilities, as a possible option, but are still working on selecting an operator and setting up community outreach.

City staff expect an additional 40 shelter beds to come online prior to Sept. 21 at Shiloh Baptist Church.

Activists like Power-Drutis feel the Shiloh shelter won’t be enough, as it’s only serving single men and is not a low-barrier shelter.

City staff hope individuals at the 8th and Yakima encampment choose to accept shelter at Shiloh, and others will be referred to one of Tacoma’s temporary tiny home villages or stability site beds if they become available in the following weeks.

The 8th and Yakima site has been the subject of complaints by nearby residents and businesses, and a known site in need of services. Earlier this year, the city spent $25,000 to put portable toilets and a sink near the site. That hygiene station will be removed Sept. 17.

City Council members previously asked city staff what the plan was to address the 8th and Yakima site. Conor McCarthy posed the question in a meeting on Aug. 31 in an update on homelessness in the city.

“The only way this works is not only if we provide the services, and the additional (shelter) options and the housing resources, but we also enforce the rules that say you can’t just set up 50 campsites on a sidewalk. If we’re doing one and not the other, I don’t think we have a good plan,” McCarthy said.

At the same meeting, staff said there have been individuals at the 8th and Yakima camp who have denied services offered by the city, or have been in a shelter but returned to the camp.

People who lived at the site previously shared their experiences with The News Tribune, including Dylan Heatherly, who said in June he struggled to find a job because he worried his things would get stolen when he was away.

Kenneth Fowlkes told The News Tribune’s Matt Driscoll in July that he was staying at the site and was in a situation he “can’t even get out of.”

“Every second of the day I hope something changes for me,” he said.

Tacoma has removed six encampments within the city since COVID-19 started in the beginning of 2020.

This story was originally published by The News Tribune.