New ordinance could create camping ‘buffer zones’ in Tacoma

TACOMA, Wash. — Tacoma City Council is considering a new camping ordinance that if passed would create a “buffer zone” around nearly a dozen city shelters. Anyone caught storing personal belongings and setting up a temporary shelter within 10 blocks of these shelters could be charged with a misdemeanor offense.

Altheimer Memorial Church is among the shelters that could soon be buffered. Pastor Dexter Clark claims he’s not necessarily for or against the ordinance. He feels conflicted.

“The proposal is good in some respects,” said Clark. “It’s bad from the standpoint that you are outside looking in.”

Currently, two large encampments flank Clark’s congregation and family shelter.

“I just don’t like for the children to have to be exposed to the encampments,” said Clark. “Some folks in the encampments do drugs, sell drugs.”

Tacoma City Council Member John Hines proposed the ordinance that would push the tents, tarps and structures away. He believes it’s a good idea for two reasons. First, that “unsanctioned encampments have a negative impact on neighborhoods and can decrease a neighborhood’s willingness to host a shelter.” Secondly, “encampments that are too close to temporary shelters threaten the City’s ability to support shelters effectively”.

According to Hines, the 10-block distance was determined by crime data.

The council is scheduled to decide whether or not to move forward with the legislation by the end of September.