UUC Hosting Tent City 3

University Unitarian Church is excited to welcome Tent City 3 and share our space with them from March 18 until June 17, 2023. Many congregations have hosted Tent City over the last 22 years, and many have done so numerous times. Recently Tent City 3 has been located at the University of Washington for the third time; University Congregational Church for the fifth time; and 13 times at St. Mark’s Cathedral.

We’ve received overwhelming support from several nearby congregations, including Congregation Beth Shalom, Our Lady of the Lake Church, Assumption Parish, Temple Beth Am and St. Bridget Catholic Church. Several area businesses and stores, along with many neighbors, have offered their support as well. But we understand that hosting the camp may foster hesitancy and even fear from some in the neighborhood. We hope to address some of those feelings by offering more information about Tent City 3, and we invite you to reach out to us or to the camp for further conversation.

You can learn more about Tent City 3 by listening to a podcast by Rex Hohlbein (founder of Facing Homelessness, the BLOCK Project and You Know Me Now) in which two residents share their life stories. They are powerful, and reveal the humanity and beauty of our neighbors at Tent City 3. Click here to listen to Inside View of Tent City 3.

What is Tent City 3 and how does it operate? 

Organized tent encampments, like Tent City 3 (TC3), provide a safe place for those experiencing homelessness as they look for more permanent housing. Families and individuals come together to create a self-organized and democratic community. TC3 began operating in 2000, with churches and universities hosting this portable community for 3-month stays. They have long been sanctioned by the City of Seattle.

An Executive Committee of five elected members provides leadership and residents attend weekly meetings to review camp activities, issues and plans. UUC’s Tent City 3 Team will work closely with the Executive Committee to provide a safe space for the residents of the camp while maintaining the safety of the neighborhood.

Why are you doing this?

Engaging with those who are homeless and in need of housing has factored into the life of University Unitarian Church for the past 60 years. Our church has a long tradition of social justice work, including direct service, with much of that related to this possibility of hosting Tent City 3. In offering to share our parking lot with Tent City 3, we have an opportunity to do something to address the homelessness crisis in our community. Based upon the hosting experiences of many congregations, and TC3’s commendable track record all over the city, we believe that hosting Tent City 3 cultivates hope, and is a small step in addressing Seattle’s seemingly intractable problem of homelessness. We continue to work toward a world where the inherent worth of all is affirmed, and all can live with dignity and safety.

How many people live in TC3, and what kind of facilities are available to them?

During the pandemic, the number of people living in Tent City 3 dropped and currently there are about 50 residents. Because the need continues to be great, the hope is that the numbers accommodated by Tent City 3 will gradually increase to pre-pandemic levels. Most residents are single adults and couples living in individual tents. Some have pets, mainly dogs. The camp also has a kitchen tent, a donation tent, a warming tent (with a TV), and the welcome tent at the entrance.

The city funds portable toilets and hand washing stations. A hygiene station for showers and laundry, also funded by the city, is available off-site (downtown). Even with these costs to the city, plus the assistance the city provides for moving the camp, Tent City 3 remains the most cost-efficient form of city-funded shelter within the city’s shelter network.

How are residents screened and held accountable?

TC3 is resident-run, with all residents participating in the daily life of the camp. The TC3 community elects leaders from among the residents, and SHARE/WHEEL staff provide support. The community operates with a strict Code of Conduct which requires sobriety, nonviolence, cooperation and participation. Those not respecting the Code of Conduct must leave the community.

Tent City 3 is welcomed by so many congregations—as well as the UW, Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University—based on their good reputation. They have long been sanctioned by the City of Seattle. If they were not good neighbors, they would not be allowed to continue as a program.

UUC can provide a safe space for the residents of the camp while maintaining the safety of the neighborhood. After the UW hosted TC3 in 2017, an evaluation showed that the presence of the TC3 community had a positive impact on feelings of community safety.

Are there other ways I can get involved?

We encourage you to contact the UUC TC3 team so the neighborhood can share some opportunities to get involved. Neighbors can bake muffins or cookies, share some non-perishable groceries, or prepare an evening meal. Check Tent City 3’s meal calendar online: look for an open day and contact Tent City 3 with your offer to help.

Can I donate anything?

Yes! SHARE/WHEEL, which sponsors TC3, needs financial support. In addition, the community is looking for tents (larger is better: 7’ x 7’ allows people to stand), sleeping bags, blankets, rain coats, toiletries and toilet paper. Visit the TC3 page to find a list of items you might donate. Bring donations directly to the camp entrance.

TC3 welcomes food donations but they do not have a refrigerator for storing perishables. Neighbors can bake cookies or muffins, share some non-perishable groceries, or donate beverages like bottled water and soda. These items can be dropped off directly at Tent City 3 anytime.

Can I prepare an evening meal? 

UUC and Congregation Beth Shalom are hosting weekly meals for Tent City 3. Several other congregations are hosting meals too. Neighbors or friends can do the same by checking Tent City 3’s meal calendar online  If you find an open date on the meal calendar that works for you, contact Tent City 3 at tc3@sharewheel.org with your offer to host. 

Some information that may help you in preparing a meal—

  • Plan a meal for 50 and include 5 vegan meals if you can, since there are several vegans who currently reside at Tent City 3.
  • Bring your meal in large disposable containers that can be used for serving. The Tent City 3 residents will serve it up buffet style in their kitchen tent. 
  • If you have a supply of paper plates, napkins and plastic silver, bring that too. Tent City 3 goes through lots of these supplies. 
  • You can create a meal for 50 with a small group, like baking pans of Costco lasagna or ordering pizzas. A hot meal, even if not homemade, is welcomed!

Where do I drop off donations?

University Unitarian Church is at 6556 35th Ave NE, at the corner of NE 68th St and 35th Ave NE. Tent City 3 is located in the south end of the church parking lot, and the parking lot is south of the building. Volunteers dropping off items are welcome to park in the UUC lot. To access TC3’s entrance, walk up from the lot to the public sidewalk along 35th Ave NE, continue south to our second driveway that is being used by Tent City 3 during their stay. Walking in the south driveway, past the church’s enclosed storage area leads to the TC3 entrance. There is a check-in station for TC3 at the fence entrance where meals and any donations can be delivered. TC3 residents are happy to help you unload donations!

Do you want to learn more?

Some resources you may find helpful:

Still have questions? Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for further conversation at uuchomelessness@gmail.com