Thursday night, Ted and Greta Brackman hosted a meeting at the Nazarene Church to discuss the upcoming Freezing Nights program set to begin on November 3. The meeting was a followup to previous meetings with neighbors concerning the increase in crime during the five months the program is in use. The Freezing Nights team presented their changes to the program to try and alleviate those concerns.
First things first, every person at the meeting has compassion for the homeless and wants them to receive the help they need. It seems everyone there was also supportive of Freezing Nights as a program if it would be willing to make some changes to ensure that the impact on the neighborhoods is minimal. The main problems are caused by a select few who use the program, not the majority of the guests.
There was probably 50-60 people in attendance, with most being volunteers with the program. Greta Brackman started by listing some of the concerns brought up by neighbors at the previous meeting: theft, burglary, drug usage, loitering, threats, an overall unsafe environment for pets, children, and the elderly.
She then outlined three changes Freezing Nights is implementing this year to help with those concerns (we’ll go more in-depth on these later:
1. The pickup location has been changed from outside the police station to a yet, undisclosed church.
2. Every guest will be transported to and from the church, they will not be released into the neighborhoods.
3. They are capping the number of guests at 40.
Here are the some thoughts on these changes: It was stated that the pickup location was being changed from the police station because there were too many incidents at the police station. If some of the guests are not behaving at the police station, how are they going to do at a church? With the program starting in a little over a week at the time of the meeting, why was the pickup church not identified? While transporting people to and from the sponsoring church is a good idea for that neighborhood, what about the neighborhood where they will be dropped off? It seems like they may just be shifting the problem.
Police Chief Bryan Jeter was present and made a short presentation. He stated the police have a good relationship with the Freezing Nights people. He noted that the program has grown over the years, and that while they do not have any empirical data, anecdotal notes say people from other communities are coming to Puyallup. The police’s concern is making sure residents are not affected by the program.
The session was then opened up to questions. Many residents expressed frustration with the limited changes being made. Volunteers defended the program. There was a healthy back-and-forth.
Our overall thoughts on the meeting were that it did not serve its purpose and was not practically well-run. The leaders and volunteers who were there were clearly not open to any suggestions or changes. They defended the program but focused on the wrong issues. All they wanted to talk about was the positive it has done for people, and no one was denying that it was helped many. They refused to talk about the few homeless who do cause problems. It was clear that the volunteers do not live in the neighborhoods where the program takes place, therefore, when they’re done, they go home and do not deal with the repercussions.
When it was suggested that they need to separate the people into the voluntary and involuntary homeless, that was quickly shut down. The fact that they refuse to even consider that is the biggest indication they have no desire to change.
We will see in the first month, whether these small changes will have a positive effect on the program, it’s guests, and the neighborhoods.