Homeless Response

It’s not something new to Sumner. And it doesn’t happen just in Sumner. But it also does happen here. Often grouped under the one term “homeless” are enormous societal issues including affordable housing, domestic violence, mental illness and addiction, just to name a few. Yet, it’s also a very personal issue that means quite simply, people in our city are sleeping outside tonight. How does a community balance compassion and law? The City of Sumner’s approach to homelessness is three-fold: focus on personal connections, enforce law violations properly and partner to address regional challenges.

Personal Approach

Some Sumner residents have lived unsheltered here for years.. In the past, we’ve relied mostly on our Police officers to know and check on the welfare of these Sumner residents. Recently, we’ve seen an increase in true transients passing through as well as an increase in encampments along our rivers’ shorelines.

Enforce Law Violations

While it’s not illegal to be homeless, it is against the law to leave garbage and human waste on public land, to camp or otherwise live on public land when a reasonable shelter alternative is offered/available, or participate in other criminal activity such as theft, trespass, and possession of illegal substances. We also follow strict laws that clearly outline how the City removes encampments on public land.

Beyond simply enforcing individual laws, members of every City department began meeting regularly this winter to develop a holistic approach to this complex issue. Staff from Legal, Police, Public Works, Community Development and Administration discuss ways the City and community can better provide resources to individuals, keep public land clear and natural habitat protected, and understand the issues that our homeless individuals face so that the City can connect them with appropriate resources and assistance.


Related Regional Issues

The challenge with homelessness is that it affects and is affected by so many other large societal problems.

  • Affordable housing: Both the lack of housing options and the rising values of our region affect people’s risk of not having housing. Sumner discusses housing issues regionally through South Sound Housing Affordability Partners and Puget Sound Regional Council. Our nearly finalized Housing Action Plan identifies what housing needs are missing and how to provide them.
  • Mental Health: Police Officer undergo training on how to respond to individuals experiencing mental health issues, whether homeless or not. Pierce County and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department continue to address regional mental health and addiction issues.
  • Domestic Violence: No one should have to choose between abuse in their home or being homeless. Our Legal department is committed to prosecuting and addressing domestic violence criminal conduct, which includes providing domestic violence survivors with a domestic violence advocate, while the City also supports the non-profit Exodus Housing help to ensure that people fleeing abuse do not end up homeless.
  • Environmental Protection: Encampments of homeless individuals regularly include toxic and human waste, which, if left uncleaned, harms our efforts to protect our natural environment, especially our shorelines and waterways.

We don’t have all the answers. Perhaps we never will. But, by working together to identify issues at the personal and regional level, we hope to bring you and our elected officials a clear image of the challenges here in Sumner, the impact to your city departments, and the path toward ideas to reduce homelessness in Sumner.

Two people sleeping on the Ryan House porch. Individuals sleeping on the Ryan House porch. Tent full of itemsThe encampment by the Puyallup River had tents full of various items including needles, drugs and open latrines.

It’s not something new to Sumner. And it doesn’t happen just in Sumner. But it also does happen here. Often grouped under the one term “homeless” are enormous societal issues including affordable housing, domestic violence, mental illness and addiction, just to name a few. Yet, it’s also a very personal issue that means quite simply, people in our city are sleeping outside tonight. How does a community balance compassion and law? The City of Sumner’s approach to homelessness is three-fold: focus on personal connections, enforce law violations properly and partner to address regional challenges.

Personal Approach

Some Sumner residents have lived unsheltered here for years.. In the past, we’ve relied mostly on our Police officers to know and check on the welfare of these Sumner residents. Recently, we’ve seen an increase in true transients passing through as well as an increase in encampments along our rivers’ shorelines.

Enforce Law Violations

While it’s not illegal to be homeless, it is against the law to leave garbage and human waste on public land, to camp or otherwise live on public land when a reasonable shelter alternative is offered/available, or participate in other criminal activity such as theft, trespass, and possession of illegal substances. We also follow strict laws that clearly outline how the City removes encampments on public land.

Beyond simply enforcing individual laws, members of every City department began meeting regularly this winter to develop a holistic approach to this complex issue. Staff from Legal, Police, Public Works, Community Development and Administration discuss ways the City and community can better provide resources to individuals, keep public land clear and natural habitat protected, and understand the issues that our homeless individuals face so that the City can connect them with appropriate resources and assistance.


Related Regional Issues

The challenge with homelessness is that it affects and is affected by so many other large societal problems.

  • Affordable housing: Both the lack of housing options and the rising values of our region affect people’s risk of not having housing. Sumner discusses housing issues regionally through South Sound Housing Affordability Partners and Puget Sound Regional Council. Our nearly finalized Housing Action Plan identifies what housing needs are missing and how to provide them.
  • Mental Health: Police Officer undergo training on how to respond to individuals experiencing mental health issues, whether homeless or not. Pierce County and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department continue to address regional mental health and addiction issues.
  • Domestic Violence: No one should have to choose between abuse in their home or being homeless. Our Legal department is committed to prosecuting and addressing domestic violence criminal conduct, which includes providing domestic violence survivors with a domestic violence advocate, while the City also supports the non-profit Exodus Housing help to ensure that people fleeing abuse do not end up homeless.
  • Environmental Protection: Encampments of homeless individuals regularly include toxic and human waste, which, if left uncleaned, harms our efforts to protect our natural environment, especially our shorelines and waterways.

We don’t have all the answers. Perhaps we never will. But, by working together to identify issues at the personal and regional level, we hope to bring you and our elected officials a clear image of the challenges here in Sumner, the impact to your city departments, and the path toward ideas to reduce homelessness in Sumner.

Two people sleeping on the Ryan House porch. Individuals sleeping on the Ryan House porch. Tent full of itemsThe encampment by the Puyallup River had tents full of various items including needles, drugs and open latrines.

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