Tacoma makes it easier to host homeless shelters
TACOMA, Wash. – Churches and nonprofits have a new way to help the homeless, but the changes won't include a controversial amendment about sex offenders.
City leaders permanently adopted a set of temporary rules meant to encourage community organizations to host homeless shelters.
In Tuesday night’s vote, the city simplified the permitting process and cut fees for churches and non-profits willing to host homeless camps.
“Frankly the city has had a lot of ordinances and barriers in place to keep this kind of participation from happening, up until now,” said Mike Yoder with Associated Ministries, an umbrella organization for Tacoma’s faith groups.
However, there was also a desire by some councilmembers to give low-risk sex offenders a chance to stay in these shelters as well. That effort struck a nerve with religious groups, many of which host youth programs at their parishes.
“One of the most important things that my role as a pastor is, is to make people feel safe. Not only be safe, but feel safe,” said Dr. Eric Jackson, the pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church.
The issue is that excluding low-risk sex offenders would leave a lot of Tacoma’s homeless population out on the streets. The idea found support with some members of the audience during the council meeting.
“It has to be possible for people to rehabilitate and that is why I am in favor of that particular option,” said Al Ratcliffe, a community advocate.
Despite those sentiments, Councilmember Ryan Mello decided to pull the proposed amendment just as debate before the vote was set to begin. That means background checks will be required, and sex offenders will be kept out of church-run shelters.
“I will not be offering a proposed motion related to background checks this evening that has been the subject of some community dialogue, really despite my belief that the amendment is the right course of action," Mello said.
Councilmembers did approve a different amendment that would allow a temporary shelter to operate past the six-month time limit, so long as it complies with all the rules.
Religious leaders say they expect a lot more churches to step up and host shelter spaces now that the city has made these rules permanent.