Sunday, October 9, 2011

Homeless people to be offered 'tent cities' in Seattle, Washington, if churches take advantage of new decision by city government

 Originally published Monday, October 3, 2011 at 9:08 PM

City eases tent-city rules for churches

Advocates for the homeless say they don't expect a proliferation of tent encampments now that the Seattle City Council has voted to allow religious organizations to host tent cities without a permit and without a limit on the number citywide.
Seattle Times staff reporter
quotes I live in a tent city. It is a real blessing. We are, for the most part, hard working... Read more
quotes Let's call them HopeNChange Villes. Read more
quotes How lovely. Read more
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Advocates for the homeless say they don't expect a proliferation of tent encampments now that the Seattle City Council has voted to allow religious organizations to host tent cities without a permit and without a limit on the number citywide.
"There's still not a bunch of congregations rushing to do this, but it does expand the ways the unsheltered in the city are cared for," said the Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett, director of the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness.
The City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Monday that makes encampments a legal accessory use to a religious facility. That means churches, mosques, temples and other faith-based organizations can provide temporary shelter on their property, subject to basic health and safety rules and a limit of 100 people per encampment.
Currently there are two tent encampments in Seattle, Tent City 3 and Nickelsville.
Under the new ordinance, religious organizations don't have to notify neighbors and there is no limit on how long an encampment may stay in one place.
Councilmember Nick Licata, who sponsored the legislation, said that with the city's homeless shelters filled to capacity, tent encampments represent "one solution."
The new law also responds to court rulings and a 2010 state law that says cities can't impose undue burdens on religious organizations that want to serve homeless people as part of their mission.
But some homeless advocates and residents of Tent City 3 opposed the legislation because the easier rules apply only to churches, not secular groups and private landowners, which have to apply for a temporary-use permit to host an encampment.
"Don't go out of your way to limit secular landowners who want to help us," Paul Marshall, a Tent City 3 resident, told the City Council before Monday's vote.
Under a 2002 court-ordered agreement between the city and Share/Wheel, a nonprofit that organizes Tent City 3, nonprofits and private landowners that host Tent City 3 currently do not have to obtain a permit but must notify the city, said Bob Scales, government-affairs section director for the Seattle city attorney. That agreement expires in March.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or

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Originally published September 28, 2011 at 8:52 PM | Page modified September 29, 2011 at 9:08 PM
Corrected version

Seattle may ease tent-city rules for churches

The City Council on Monday will vote on an ordinance to allow churches — but not secular groups — to host temporary tent encampments for the homeless without a permit and without setting limits on the length of stay or the number of encampments in the city.
Seattle Times staff reporter
quotes Does anyone recall The CIVIL CONSERVATION CORPS? I was a senior double trade and... Read more
quotes Hawkeye, I will agree that the church based tent cities are more organized and better... Read more
quotes The neighborhoods where these encampments are situated should be very afraid. When tent... Read more
At Mary's Place, a Seattle day center for homeless women and children, a new family arrived every day in August, the biggest influx in the center's 11 years of operation.
The women at the South Lake Union center make up to 50 calls in a day trying to find temporary housing for their families anywhere within a six-county area, said Mary Hartman, the executive director.
"There's nowhere to send anybody. There's not even an emergency bed, let alone a transitional bed," Hartman said.
With existing city shelters all operating at capacity, officials have been searching for ways to meet the emergency survival needs of the homeless. The City Council on Monday will vote on an ordinance to allow churches to host temporary tent encampments without a permit and without setting limits on the length of stay or the number of encampments in the city.
It would give churches more freedom to host homeless encampments. But private landowners and nonprofits wanting to host encampments would still have to obtain a temporary-use permit, which can cost up to $2,000 and take several months to approve.
That's leading homeless advocates to say the proposed legislation doesn't go far enough.
"There may be other entities willing to host these encampments besides churches. Why step backward when there's no reason to?" asked Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza, a nonprofit civil-rights organization on Beacon Hill.
The group was fined $17,000 by the city for hosting Tent City 3 before a consent decree was adopted in 2002 that allows not only churches, but also private landowners and nonprofits, to host encampments. That 10-year agreement expires in March.
City Councilmember Nick Licata says the proposed legislation is a "middle-of-the-road" approach that recognizes churches' constitutional rights to establish homeless encampments on their property as part of their religious mission, while asking other organizations to get permission before setting up an encampment. He said the council during upcoming budget negotiations will explore waiving the permit fees for secular organizations that want to host encampments.
Since the inception of the 10-year Plan to End Homelessness in 2005, the city has provided funding to build or remodel 1,818 units of housing for formerly homeless adults, families and youth, according to the city Housing Office. But the one-night count of the homeless last winter found nearly that many people living on the streets.
Mayor Mike McGinn and the City Council have been locked in a standoff over where to site a long-term encampment that could meet some of the emergency-shelter needs.
The council in March rejected McGinn's proposal to locate an encampment at the city-owned Sunny Jim site in Sodo, saying the former industrial property wasn't suitable for habitation and wasn't close to stores or public transit. Instead, the council said it would review other proposals, including possibly buying a building and converting it to dormitory housing.
An alternative plan advanced by the mayor in May, to locate a shelter at the former Lake City Fire Station 39, has run into similar opposition as the Sunny Jim site: Neighbors object to an influx of homeless people, and council members question the wisdom of spending almost $1 million to improve a facility that is slated to be sold in three years.
A frustrated McGinn last week said he would spend the $1.8 million earmarked for a homeless encampment on leaky city roofs instead.
The Seattle Union Gospel Mission has proposed operating the shelter at Fire Station 39 at no cost to the city. But residents say they already have several low-income housing facilities in the neighborhood, including McDermott Place, a 75-unit apartment building for low-income people and veterans that opened in 2009.
"We're not against helping people, but Lake City is doing more than its share. The neighborhood is at a tipping point," said Jim Hicks, a Lake City activist who lives near the fire station.
Officials at the Union Gospel Mission say they hope at least to operate an emergency shelter at the fire station for four months this winter.
"This is a way to meet the most immediate need while we figure out a long-term solution," said Mike Johnson, the mission's special-projects director.
Meanwhile, a second tent encampment, Nickelsville, moved in May from Fire Station 39 to city-owned land on West Marginal Way South. The camp already has stayed beyond the 90 days typically allowed for homeless encampments, and a spokesman for McGinn told the West Seattle Blog that the city would not seek to evict residents.
Asked this week if the site could become the elusive long-term encampment the mayor has sought, McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus said the mayor's office was still hoping the City Council would propose a plan.
At the homeless women's day center, Mary's Place, Director Marty Hartman isn't waiting for city action. She's enlisted local churches to each provide up to 14 homeless women and children with shelter for as long as they need. She said 10 churches have committed to help, but estimates she needs four more.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or
Information in this article, originally published Sept. 28, 2011, was corrected Sept. 29, 2011. A previous version of this story incorrectly said that organizations other than churches would be subject to a new permitting process under the proposed legislation. The legislation would remove the current permit requirement for churches, but not other organizations.

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