Tacoma’s ban on camping near homeless shelters goes into effect


The ban sets up a ten-block buffer zone around the city’s ten sanctioned homeless shelters where it will now be illegal to camp.

TACOMA, Wash. — Starting Monday, it’s against the law to camp near a homeless shelter in Tacoma. The controversial ban was signed into law last month by the Tacoma City Council.

The ordinance prohibits camping or leaving personal property anywhere within ten blocks of Tacoma’s ten sanctioned homeless shelters, one of which is Shiloh Baptist Church.

Shiloh’s Pastor, Gregory Christopher, watched Tacoma react to the controversial ordinance.

“It shook the city,” he said. “A lot of groups were totally against it, but a lot of business owners and faith leaders were saying, nah, we got to show tough love.”

Shiloh runs a men’s shelter in Tacoma and was one of the shelters named in Tacoma’s legislation, which means it now has a ten-block buffer zone.

Christopher says he supports the ban and has seen a change in his shelter’s capacity since it was announced.

“Since all the publicity around the ordinance, we started filling up quick, and now, we’ve had to turn guys away because we don’t have any space,” he said.

The City of Tacoma put out a statement on its website that the penalty for violating the ordinance comes with a maximum fine of two hundred and fifty dollars and up to thirty days in jail.

Christopher says he’s experienced homelessness and drug addiction himself, and that experience taught him that sometimes people need to be pushed toward help.

“Thirty days in jail could be the best thing that could happen to a lot of them,” he said. “It saved my life. Literally saved my life, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m pushing this.”

However, he says his support only goes so far: the ordinance applies whether or not Tacoma has enough beds to actually accommodate all of those experiencing homelessness in the city.

Christopher says that’s problematic because if shelters don’t have any spaces available, people wouldn’t have anywhere to go. 

“If there‘s not a space open, then we have to leave them alone until we have more spaces open up,” Christopher said. “So the ordinance shouldn’t even go to the next level if there are no beds open within ten blocks.”

Christopher hopes that as divisive as the ban is, it can be the first step towards something better.

“We got to do something,” he said. “We can’t continue to do the same thing and expect different results.”

The City of Tacoma says it will spend the next two weeks posting notices about the ordinance in the buffer zones before the ban is enforced, so community groups and organizations will have time to offer assistance and resources.


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