Hosting Tent City 3

"Tent City 3" on a bright gold background

Representatives of three UUC social justice groups—the Social Justice Steering Committee, Teen Feed, and our collaboration with Lake City Partners—began exploring the possibility of UUC hosting SHARE’s Tent City 3 during August 2022. In a vote on November 13, the congregation gave its overwhelming support for offering to share our parking space with Tent City 3 from mid-March 2023 to mid-June 2023.

IMAGINE if...

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. Doing so aligns with our UU principles, values, mission and vision.

In early September, Rev. Beth Chronister shared from the pulpit:

We’re in conversation with an organization called Share/WHEEL…a self-governing community of folks who are currently homeless, and it’s a really incredible program. We met with some of the residents last week to imagine what it might look like. I asked them what they wanted us to know at UUC, and they said ‘Tent City 3 is a safe haven, a safe haven from the chaos.’

Learn More About Tent City 3

UUC’s History Related to Housing and Homelessness

Our church has a long tradition of prophetic social justice work, as well as direct service with much of that related to this possibility of hosting Tent City 3. In fact, providing housing and engaging with those who are homeless have factored into the life of this church for the past 60 years. Read more here about the many ways, including fair housing and redlining; operating a supportive house for those living with AIDs; and becoming a sanctuary church in the 1980’s and offering housing to migrants from Central America.

You can also listen to or watch Rev. Jon Luopa’s October 30 sermon related to our history and the possibility of hosting Tent City 3.

Practicalities and Learning from Other Host Congregations

Tent City 3 is a safe, well-organized, city-sanctioned camp that is governed by the residents. It is one of ten encampments in our region that are supported as one means of addressing homelessness—it is viewed as a stepping stone to more stable, affordable housing. It is often the only option for many families, since most shelters are either for women and children, or men only. Experiences by other congregations hosting Tent City 3 have been overwhelmingly positive. The UUC team contacted more than ten other congregations who have recently hosted, and all have hosted multiple times.

The size of the camp varies, from 30 to 60, or more. It varies because some move into more stable housing, while others apply to join the camp as space opens. At University Congregational Church, hosting from mid-September to mid-December 2022 (for the fifth time), there are about 55 residents. In mid-December, Tent City 3 will move to the University of Washington campus for 90 days, before joining us at UUC. Tent City 3 provides nearly all that they need—tents, platforms to keep the tents dry and warm during our cooler months, porta-potties, and a common tent where residents may gather and charge their phones. All the residents are engaged in camp life, and they volunteer in various roles, like checking in guests and cleaning up the camp.

UUC’s most important contribution will be welcoming Tent City 3 to share our parking lot for three months. We will also offer them access to outside water and to electricity for charging their phones.

An Opportunity to Get Proximate to Our Community Crisis that Challenges Many

We witness this crisis every day, with many in our community living in cars, tents, RVs, shelters and tiny house villages. In the face of such an overwhelming societal issue, it’s too easy to dehumanize the individuals suffering from homelessness. But our 1st Principle calls us to see homeless folks in the street and in encampments as our neighbors. In hosting Tent City 3, we can deepen our understanding of homelessness, enabling us to be more effective with advocacy and systemic change. Click to read some stories that can teach us something about those impacted by homelessness, like Sheryl, Lacey and Billy . May they inspire us to build a better world.

We cannot create justice without getting close to places where injustices prevail. We have to get proximate.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of “Just Mercy,” the Unitarian Universalist Association 2015/16 Common Read 

The University of Washington surveyed their community after they first hosted Tent City 3 in 2017. Most in the UW community viewed the stay as positive and said there weren’t any major surprises or issues. UUC member Kira McCoy was involved as a graduate student, and shared the results. Tent City 3 will return to UW for the third time in December. Seattle Pacific University hosted Tent City 3 three times between 2012 to 2018, and two faculty conducted research to learn more, interviewing 60 residents. They concluded that “the data challenges what we think we know about the causes of homelessness.” They identified four myths held by many of us.

The Process—Making a Decision

Opportunities to Learn More and Offer Feedback: From mid-September through early November, congregants were encouraged to learn more, by stopping by the Learning Station on Sunday mornings; joining one of nine information sessions; reading the many Gateway articles; and contacting one of UUC’s Tent City 3 team members.

Initial Exploration: This small group of lay leaders visited four other congregations that have hosted Tent City 3 to learn more. Upon learning that there is a need for a host site in Spring 2023, Tent City 3 residents were invited to meet with the Social Justice Steering Committee, along with lay leaders from our Lake City Partners and Teen Feed teams. Rev. Jon Luopa joined this first conversation, and then Rev. Beth Chronister joined a follow-up meeting with Tent City 3 residents upon her return.

Feedback: Many congregants expressed support for UUC hosting. The two major concerns that came up when discussing with congregants the possibility of our hosting Tent City 3 at UUC were 1) access to parking on Sundays and 2) the potential impact on neighbors. Read more about the results of the parking and transportation survey and of our neighborhood outreach.

Neighborhood Outreach: UUC’s Tent City 3 team sent a letter out to over 400 neighbors, inviting them to learn more and hear directly from Tent City 3 residents at a Neighborhood Meeting that UUC hosted in late October. The team also reached out to Congregation Beth Shalom, the Northeast Branch of the Seattle Public library, Council Member Alex Pedersen and some of the local businesses. Most expressed support about our hosting Tent City 3. Read more about our neighborhood outreach. After that, Tent City 3 team members joined community association meetings for the View Ridge, Bryant and Wedgewood neighborhoods.

Congregational Meeting on Sunday, November 13: The Social Justice Steering Committee recommended that the Board of Trustees host a special congregational meeting where all members can add their voice through an advisory vote. Rev. Jon Luopa will decide, based upon this feedback, whether UUC will proceed.

Tent City 3 Team

Our UUC team evolved from a shared interest in the homelessness crisis in our community. Lay leaders from the Social Justice Steering Committee, the Lake City Partners to End Homelessness team, and UUC’s Teen Feed meal team stepped forward upon learning that Tent City 3 didn’t have a host identified beginning in March 2023. Some who support this possibility stepped up more recently, and others have indicated an interest to engage if we go forward. Feel free to reach out to any of the following – Sallie Dacey, Dave Mentz, Debbie Maranville, David Kendall, Mary Mason, Cynthia Salzman, Laurie Mann, Walter Hatch or Pam Smith Mentz.

Questions or comments about our hosting of Tent City 3? Please contact Dave Mentz or Sallie Dacey.

Gateway/blog Articles