Activists will hold a seminar and symbolic sleep-in at Puyallup’s Pioneer Park on Friday to raise awareness of homelessness in East Pierce County.
Ted Brackman of Puyallup, a longtime advocate for homeless people, has rallied others to pitch tents with him in solidarity with homeless people — an act of civil disobedience that could land them in jail.
Brackman says a combination of stringent local regulations and a lack of services creates a “subhuman” environment for the community’s most vulnerable citizens, making anyone who is “economically destitute illegal.”
“I don’t think people have faced up to that,” he said. “And that’s why I’m going to pitch that tent.”
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Puyallup Police Chief Bryan Jeter said Friday’s event is a permitted display of free speech, but officers will respond to any illegal activity. He noted that pitching a tent in Pioneer Park is prohibited at any time.
“If people are breaking the law, they will be dealt with accordingly,” Jeter said, adding that the event permit expires at 10 p.m.
Jeter said he disagrees with Brackman’s claim that it’s illegal to be homeless in Puyallup. If a person is found trespassing or sleeping where they’re not allowed, he said, police issue a warning first and try to direct them to appropriate shelter if it’s available.
Police action, which could include arrest, relies on how an individual responds to officers, he added.
Friday’s event is about more than civil protest, Brackman said. The primary goal is to teach Puyallup and surrounding cities about the lack of services and possible solutions to the homelessness problem.
Experts from places including Washington, D.C., and San Francisco will speak about “criminalization” of the homeless. They’ll also discuss affordable housing and other approaches that Brackman said have improved lives while saving communities money.
A housing-first model, for example, has been used in cities such as Los Angeles and Denver, he said. Homeless people there are provided variations of fixed housing, giving them a safe place to live without threat of harassment or harm.
Brackman said a similar option is possible in Puyallup.
“The city really does have a legal responsibility,” he said, adding that court rulings around the country underscore that point.
Some services are available to homeless citizens in Puyallup. The Freezing Nights program, for example, offers shelter to homeless individuals during cold months, while the New Hope Resource Center connects homeless people with services to help them find safety, health and stability.
Brackman said those aren’t enough.
He said year-round shelter options are possible in Puyallup, after an ordinance passed in 2010 in conjunction with state legislation allowing small encampments under certain conditions. But no churches have stepped forward to provide the service, he said.
Brackman hopes Friday’s event will be the first step toward progress.
“It’s a civil rights issue. It’s a legal issue,” he said. “It’s a moral issue for the entire community.”