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Tacoma adopts more rules limiting homeless camping

City leaders have taken another emergency step toward fixing its homeless crisis. On Tuesday night, they passed two new ordinances to deal with unauthorized homeless camps and people who sleep in their cars. (Photo: KOMO News)

TACOMA, Wash. – City leaders have taken another emergency step toward fixing a homeless crisis.

On Tuesday night, they passed two new ordinances to deal with unauthorized homeless camps and people who sleep in their cars. The first measure prohibits people from pitching tents on any public property.

Camping on private property is already illegal, but this change gives police a new tool to help drive the chronically homeless to new services that can help find them shelter.

“Currently police are left with saying, ‘Hey we don't really have a rule, so we really wish you weren't here,’” said Tacoma Deputy Mayor Robert Thoms. “So this allows the police to have a little bit more enforcement but the enforcement is geared toward pushing them into existing services."

The other change adopted by city council members is to limit car camping in one spot from a week down to 72 hours. Also when a driver is asked to move, the person must relocate at least a mile away or face another citation.

Both measures are seen as a way to encourage people to use the new city-sanctioned camp site where social workers can offer help with housing, drug abuse and mental health issues. However, some of the neighbors around that new tent city feel the program has backfired and is causing them a lot of grief.

“It was all cleaned up and quiet and now it's back to what it was,” said Jennifer Kaplan, who manages Tacoma Center Motel.

Kaplan said she has worked hard to clear out the drug addicts and sex trafficking that had plagued the area around her motel. But in the two weeks since a city-sanctioned tent city moved in nearby.. she says the problems returned to threaten her family, and her livelihood.

Kaplan's biggest fear is the safety of her family. Although KOMO News has yet to obtain confirmation with Tacoma police, Kaplan said a man staying at the city sanctioned camp asked her 8-year-old daughter for a kiss on the cheek and more.

“He asked me to go in his tent and I just walked away,” said Liberty Kaplan, the young daughter.

The motel manager said she understands the city is trying a new approach to deal with the homeless crisis, but right now she's paying the price.

“Nobody wants to stay at our motel anymore because of the fact that now we have all the homeless people,” Kaplan said.

Thoms said he hopes the new ordinance can start to address the problems raised by the motel manager. He said the city is also working on another measure to restrict camping and loitering on sidewalks.

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