WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT REPORTING ENCAMPMENTS
Here are a few things that can be helpful to the city in coordinating a fast response when an encampment is first identified:
- It is imperative that citizens report encampments or trespassers immediately by calling 911. City police officers have additional actions and steps that can be taken if residents reach out as soon as possible, preferably in the first 72 hours when an encampment is first noticed by a local resident.
- Documentation can be very helpful to the city’s police officers. Photographs, a written timeline of activity and documentation can help officers and other first responders in identifying an encampment and taking steps to ensure it is safely removed. Send that information or any related questions or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
IDENTIFYING OWNERSHIP OF A PROPERTY WITH AN ENCAMPMENT
The best action a resident can take is to report a homeless encampment. When calling 911 to report, please provide as much information as possible, including the exact location of the encampment and whether it is on public or private land.
How does a resident know if an encampment is located on private or public property? Use this resource to guide you. Visit: https://matterhornwab.co.pierce.wa.us/publicgis/. Check the box that says “parcels” and then “tax parcels” from the selection list. Zoom in to the approximate location, click on the outlined parcel shape, then click the information arrows on the pop-up box to find the parcel number. Please refer to that parcel number when reporting or asking a city staff member about a suspected homeless encampment. If you're unsure of the parcel number, reach out to city staff at email@example.com for assistance.
PROPERTY CONCERNS: TRESPASSING AND ENCAMPMENTS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY
For private property owners who have discovered an encampment or somebody on their property without permission, here are options:
- A property owner can ask the person or individuals to leave. Fife Police Chief Pete Fisher advises homeowners who do approach a trespasser to use calm tones and to be careful about personal safety.
- If there is a safety concern, Chief Fisher recommends calling 911 so that a Fife police officer can be dispatched to assist. As Chief Fisher notes in this “Chat with the Chief” video, Fife police will respond in person and ask the person or people to leave.
If they do not leave, that is a crime called trespassing and they can be arrested and booked into jail for continuing to trespass.
PRIVATE PROPERTY OWNERS AND ENCAMPMENTS: WHAT TO KNOW
For those who have encampments on private property, help is available. Ultimately, property owners are responsible for maintaining their property, but city staff can help by answering questions about a homeless encampment on private property. Police officers can be dispatched to assist in clearing trespassers.
Cleanup is the responsibility of property owners. Code enforcement is one avenue the city might take for properties with trash and health and safety hazards. The City of Fife’s Community Development Department sends a letter to the property owner as a first step. Additional steps taken might include action by code enforcement, assuring that property owners are in compliance with city code and health and safety standards. Future actions could include court-issued timelines for clean-up as well as mandated clean-up at the expense of the property owner. Most property owners are very responsive in cleaning up their property and maintaining safety and health standards, but those that don’t may be directed to do so.
Typically, the city’s Community Development Department will include in its letter an explanation of why homeless encampments are not allowed on private property and that homeless encampments only are allowed on city-owned or religious property – and only encampments with a permit are allowed in Fife.
ENCAMPMENTS ON PUBLIC PROPERTY
For encampments located on city property, the city’s police are dispatched to give a 72-hour notice to those on site who must vacate. Chief Pete Fisher explains that the process is the same in every instance, “We have to go out, make contact, secure beds for residents at the time the camp is disbanded.” Police officers also are obligated to provide resources to those living in encampments.
View this “Chat with the Chief” video on the topic of trespassing on public property.
ENCAMPMENTS ON WSDOT, CITY OF TACOMA, PORT OF TACOMA PROPERTIES IN OR NEAR FIFE CITY LIMITS
Fife is limited in its ability to clear or clean encampments on public land that is not city-owned. These areas include properties owned by Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), located within Fife city limits on the northern side of the city, as well as encampment areas just outside the border of Fife, such as along State Route 509, which is located in the city limits of Tacoma. Additionally, citizens might identify encampments on property owned by the Port of Tacoma.
Not sure? Utilize the Pierce County GIS – steps to do so are listed at the top of this page – to look up ownership of a property. Once a resident has identified that a public agency is the property owner, we invite citizens to reach out to those agencies to express concerns:
WSDOT contact: Please reach out to WSDOT Homeless Response Manager Colin DeForrest at firstname.lastname@example.org
Port of Tacoma contact: Please reach out to Senior Director Security Louis P Cooper Jr at 253-592-6776 or email@example.com.
update on right-of-way clean-up efforts from wsdot
There’s a tremendous amount of progress to report in the work to remove encampments on WSDOT land where WSDOT will build a new highway. The work done at these sites has hinged on the collaborative partnerships with multiple law enforcement agencies, city and county staff, and outreach services. WSDOT has focused on taking a thoughtful approach to reclaim the land, offer unhoused people shelter and services, and address illegal activity. The focus has been on the areas east of SR 509 and between 54th and 62nd Avenue and 4th to 12th Street. They have cleared vegetation, cleaned, and secured at total of eight encampment areas. WSDOT is cutting brush, installing barriers to control access, monitoring areas, and providing security to prevent repopulation on the sites. In the coming months, additional sites on WSDOT property will be addressed so WSDOT can begin construction this summer.
ENCAMPMENT ACTIVITY ON WSDOT LAND
Fife residents might have noticed recent activity on an encampment located on WSDOT-owned property between 8th Street East and 12th Street East, off of 54th Avenue East in Fife. That parcel is located along the construction area for the Puget Sound Gateway Project, which will connect SR 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma and Interstate 5. On Nov. 16, 2021, multiple local agencies worked together to clear the site and offer services, including shelter, treatment programs and other outreach resources. On Jan. 26, 2022 there was another coordinated effort to clean up this area as well.
Because the parcels border Tacoma and Fife, as well as unincorporated Pierce County, the response represented a vast range of agencies working cooperatively. Response organizations included social service agencies, community liaisons, homeless outreach housing liaisons, police officers from the Fife and Tacoma police departments, police officers from the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, representatives from WSDOT's homeless outreach team, and more. This is one step in a larger process that WSDOT is taking on property it owns in the Tacoma and Fife areas. To read more about the agency's work, here is a presentation from the Fife City Council study session on Nov. 16, 2021.
To understand the coordination it takes to respond to encampments, please watch the video below, which was produced by the Pierce County Sherriff's Office.