Tacoma mayor says crime is down ‘a little bit’

TACOMA, Wash. — There’s new demand for action from a church with a long history in the city of Tacoma, now nearly surrounded by homeless encampments.

Those encampments are outside the front door of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which has stood nearly a century on Tacoma’s Hilltop.

Church leaders say they are dealing with threats and worse.

This comes as the city is seeing an uptick in violence, including a deadly weekend shooting involving Tacoma police.

Mayor Victoria Woodards concedes her plate is full, but the people at this parish say they need her to act because these encampments have them fearing for their safety.

“So, now it’s secure,” said Tony Panagiotu, pulling on the gate in front of the church. “But it shouldn’t be. It should be open.”

These are the lengths to which they have gone at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church for safety.

Panagiotu says he and his fellow parishioners feel under siege.

“We’re compassionate people and we try to help people as much as we possibly can,” insists Panagiotu. “That’s part of our mission here. But we’re not equipped to handle drug use and folks with machetes that confront our parishioners and guests. That has happened, and it happens on numerous occasions.”

Yet he says their pleas for help have largely been unheard.

“So, it’s frustrating for us,” he said.

We put the question to Mayor Victoria Woodards. What action is she taking?

“And you know we are taking action,” said the mayor. “As you are well aware that we can’t remove an encampment without having enough beds for everyone in the encampment to have a place to go. So we’ve got to abide by the court decision.”

She says they are moving people as space becomes available.

This comes as violence continues to plague her city. On Sunday afternoon, Tacoma police shot and killed a man in South Tacoma, not far from the mayor’s house.

Moreover, the city is nearly two months into its crime reduction plan, targeting specific areas.

Mayor Woodards says the plan appears to be bearing some fruit.

“We can see preliminary, again, don’t have real data yet, but we’re seeing a little bit of a decline,” she says. “So, that says OK, it’s working a little bit.”

The frustration continues at places like St. Nicholas.

“If we can’t practice our faith here because it’s not safe, what do we do?” asked Panagiotu. We go somewhere else? An interesting question.”

When asked what the answer was, Panagiotua said, “Well, hopefully that’s not the answer.”

At the end of the interview, the mayor had some good news for the parish.

With its popular Greek festival coming up exactly one month from today, the city is prioritizing removing these encampments.

The mayor also insisted that everyone who is moved will be offered shelter.