People return to Tacoma homeless camp days after shutdown

TACOMA, Wash. — People are back at the site of a homeless encampment in Tacoma that was cleared 10 days ago.

The camp is under Interstate 705 in downtown Tacoma. City officials had it shut down due to public safety concerns following several fires there.

Tacoma officials said during the shutdown, outreach workers made contact with 51 people. Eight were placed into shelters.

Since then, about 30 people have returned to the spot to live. On Monday, outreach workers, including Saydey Spears, met with people at the camp.

Spears said she was homeless four years ago.

“Somebody walked alongside me because I didn’t just get clean, and I just didn’t get housed because that was a thing to do. I did that because somebody was like, ‘hey, here’s a different path,’” right? And I chose that,” said Spears.

Choice is key, and some people turn down help when faced with giving up all they have.

Theresa Power-Drutis is the co-executive director of New Connections. She said most shelters require people to give up their belongings. To someone who is homeless, that means giving up everything they have needed to survive.

“When people say, ‘people are always turning away services,’ it just makes me a little bit crazy. Because if you were in that place, you might very well make that same choice of, ‘I’m not doing a short-term fix that loses everything I’ve got,’ said Power-Drutis.

One of the people who was back at the encampment Monday is John Patchell. Patchell, who is in his 60s, said he has been homeless in Tacoma since he was 19.

“When I was younger then, I could get around. Now, you know, this is the wrong place for me. I’ll tell you that,” said Patchell.

Patchell said he wants help, but recent events have set him back.

“I just went through a bad car wreck. My best friend was killed. I miss him,” he said. “I don’t know how to go about it. I’ve never been like this.”

Also at the camp was Joshua Stecker. He said he’s getting help, but not enough to completely keep him off the streets.

“They just push us from one area to another,” said Stecker.

The city plans to put up temporary fencing this week. Officials said they are still assessing the future of the site.