Submitted by Tacoma Democratic Socialists of America.
On January 3rd, on the eve of yet another wind and rain storm, the City of Tacoma posted a 72-hour notice for unhoused residents to vacate People’s Park in downtown Tacoma. This planned sweep came as a surprise to local service providers and housing advocates, who only hours earlier had interacted with City staff at the Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness meeting, where the sweep was not mentioned in spite of most providers getting ready to close for the weekend.
The notice also contradicts verbal assurances from the Mayor and City staff that unhoused residents would not be removed from parks under new Tacoma Municipal Code (TMC) 8.27.210, banning tents, until sufficient shelter had been established elsewhere. In spite of a new tiny house village which is already at capacity and new Temporary Shelters, there is still not enough space for the residents of People’s Park–especially for those who can’t qualify for new alternative shelters which pose barriers to access like serving only specific populations or setting other requirements.
Housing advocates from the Tacoma & Pierce County Democratic Socialists of America (TDSA) deem this planned sweep not only inhumane, but also unconstitutional, asserting that TMC 8.27.210 violates the rights of the unhoused in Tacoma. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Martin v. City of Boise that enforcing camping bans when a city does not have enough shelter beds available is a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bars cruel and unusual punishment. Tristia Bauman, Senior Attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, outlined the connection between the Martin decision and TMC 8.27.210 in their December 2019 letter to the City of Tacoma leadership, stating that, “[These] proposed changes to the City’s municipal ordinance will ultimately subject homeless people to criminal penalty simply for sheltering themselves in public, even when they lack any shelter alternatives.”
Though many Western cities have attempted to overturn the Martin decision, just three weeks ago the Supreme Court of the United States decided not to revisit this case, making the City of Tacoma’s planned sweep a clear violation of the law and opening the city up to possible legal action. TDSA, housing advocates and residents of People’s Park remain determined to fight for adequate shelter space in Tacoma and call for the city to drastically scale up their response to the ongoing housing crisis.
For a statement from the TDSA Housing Working Group, click here.