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, 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 their welfare. As with our greater region, we’ve seen an increase in true transients passing through as well as an increase in encampments. Yet, the approach to assist these individuals remains similar. Officers and City officials partner with organizations like Orting Valley Recovery Café, Comprehensive Life Resources and FOB Hope to meet people where they are (literally and figuratively) and help get individuals the assistance they need

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 follow strict laws that clearly outline how the City removes encampments on public land. We also partnered with the Salvation Army to reserve dorm-style beds for men and women that will remain available just for individuals in Sumner. People can stay there with no time limit and get access to services for longer-term solutions. This means that for anyone in Sumner, there is a bed available.

Members of every City department continue to meet regularly to maintain 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. We also continue to meet with partners ranging from food banks to the Family Center, our faith community and other non-profits to understand the issues that our residents face and connect resources so that the City can be part of the safety net that gets individuals 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. While we continue to address the result of individuals being without a home, we also work on the root causes.

  • Affordable housing: Both the lack of housing options and house values of our region affect people’s risk of not having housing. Sumner participates in addressing housing issues regionally through South Sound Housing Affordability Partners and Puget Sound Regional Council. Our new Housing Action Plan identifies what housing needs are missing, and staff are now working on 13 actual steps to help bring those missing pieces into our city.
  • 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, we continue to make progress in providing temporary shelter, building longer-term housing solutions and connecting individuals to various resources for a city-wide “safety net” to help our most vulnerable get the support they need.

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, 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 their welfare. As with our greater region, we’ve seen an increase in true transients passing through as well as an increase in encampments. Yet, the approach to assist these individuals remains similar. Officers and City officials partner with organizations like Orting Valley Recovery Café, Comprehensive Life Resources and FOB Hope to meet people where they are (literally and figuratively) and help get individuals the assistance they need

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 follow strict laws that clearly outline how the City removes encampments on public land. We also partnered with the Salvation Army to reserve dorm-style beds for men and women that will remain available just for individuals in Sumner. People can stay there with no time limit and get access to services for longer-term solutions. This means that for anyone in Sumner, there is a bed available.

Members of every City department continue to meet regularly to maintain 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. We also continue to meet with partners ranging from food banks to the Family Center, our faith community and other non-profits to understand the issues that our residents face and connect resources so that the City can be part of the safety net that gets individuals 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. While we continue to address the result of individuals being without a home, we also work on the root causes.

  • Affordable housing: Both the lack of housing options and house values of our region affect people’s risk of not having housing. Sumner participates in addressing housing issues regionally through South Sound Housing Affordability Partners and Puget Sound Regional Council. Our new Housing Action Plan identifies what housing needs are missing, and staff are now working on 13 actual steps to help bring those missing pieces into our city.
  • 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, we continue to make progress in providing temporary shelter, building longer-term housing solutions and connecting individuals to various resources for a city-wide “safety net” to help our most vulnerable get the support they need.

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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Page last updated: 21 Mar 2022, 06:17 PM