Tacoma’s Camping Ordinance: More than 3 months later
Last year, I proposed an ordinance that banned camping and storage of personal belongings on public property in buffer zones created within ten blocks of a city-operated shelter and within 200 feet of Tacoma’s mapped rivers, waterways, creeks, streams, and shorelines. The City Council ultimately passed Second Amended Substitute Ordinance 28831 on October 11.
My ordinance sought to support some of the most vulnerable people in our city – those experiencing homelessness – to get away from predators, out of unsanitary conditions, and connected to valuable resources. The measure also provided solutions to serious public health and safety issues in our communities by concentrating inevitable encampments in certain locations.
Progress made since implementation
Thanks to the release of the city’s latest Homeless Services and Strategy Update, we now have an indication of the relative success of the law. And there is reason to be pleased with the progress so far.
Thus far, we’ve achieved 100% voluntary compliance since the ordinance went into effect. In total, 23 encampments were removed because their location violated the new measures. The removal allowed for the clean-up of 480,000 pounds of debris.
We’ve also made significant progress in our outreach efforts to people experiencing homelessness. Thus far, we have contacted 649 people experiencing homelessness. Of those, 386 people – 59% of those contacted – expressed interest in receiving city services to assist them. Additionally, 71 people – or 11% of those contacted – were transitioned into a shelter.
Trends before and after implementation
Trends before and after the ordinance’s implementation indicate that people experiencing homelessness were more likely to take offers of service in the buffer zones compared to areas in the rest of the city. We also saw a decrease in the calls for service in the buffer zones, with no change in the areas outside of them.
In the buffer zones in the 3.5 months before implementation compared to the 3.5 months after implementation:
- Offered services went from 194 to 485, about a 150% increase.
- Accepted service went from 95 to 307, about a 223% increase.
- Acceptance rate went from 49% to 63%, about a 28.5% increase.
In the areas outside of the buffer zones in the 3.5 months before implementation compared to the 3.5 months after implementation:
- Offered services went from 208 to 164, about a 21% decrease.
- Accepted service went from 110 to 79, about a 28% decrease.
- Acceptance rate went from 53% to 48%, about a 9.5% decrease.
While this first update on the impact of my ordinance on helping those experiencing homelessness is promising, I know there is much more work to be done. I remain committed to ensuring that our city continues championing effective and compassionate solutions like investments in affordable housing, mental health resources, addiction treatment access, and public safety funding in the future.