This is a sensitive issue, obvious since we first heard about it Wednesday. Within the span of a few hours, we received several notes from WSB readers asking if we had heard a rumor about Tent City 3, the rotating-site church-sponsored homeless camp, possibly coming to Fauntleroy Church (UCC) later this year. Our first stage of research quickly turned up a mention on the church website, saying that it was under discussion. Knowing the movements of other Tent City camps have led to community concern and questions elsewhere around Western Washington, we decided to seek comment and context rather than just slapping something up here on WSB. We left messages Wednesday afternoon for leaders at Fauntleroy Church, and also contacted the Church Council of Greater Seattle. While the Church Council did respond to our queries and after some discussion ultimately decided to take an official “no comment” position, we still have not heard back from Fauntleroy Church. Yet this is clearly being talked about in the community — yet more local residents have contacted us to inquire; one has forwarded a letter that the church-based Little Pilgrim preschool has sent to its families; another has forwarded a letter that was sent to the church on behalf of concerned neighbors. So in hopes of helping calm rumors, we want to share what we have found out so far:
First, background on what Tent City 3 is. As this site explains, it is a temporary encampment of up to 100 homeless people, set up at officially hosted sites for up to three months. Tent City 3 is one of two tent cities currently rotating around the area; it generally is hosted by sites on the west side of Lake Washington, while Tent City 4 moves around the Eastside.
Tent City 3 moved last month to a Tukwila church, according to this P-I article about local churches’ work on the homelessness issue. Its history is fairly well-documented online, including this site about its time at Seattle University in 2005. Some of the most interesting reading is on blogs, such as Street Stories, kept by a pastor who bills himself as “minister to the homeless.”
Since its location rotates, Tent City 3 will need somewhere to move next.
Though we have never attended services there, we know from reading about it that Fauntleroy UCC is a church whose members are committed to issues of social justice and compassion, as part of their Christian faith. A bulletin from last June mentions some volunteer work done with Tent City 3 at the site where it was located in mid-June, noting poignantly that Tent City 3 residents explained that they have the hardest time finding a church to take them in during the holiest times of the Christian year. Here’s the excerpt from that bulletin:
“On Homelessness Sunday, June 3, Larry, Donna and Katie Pierce delivered 231 D batteries donated by our church to 88 Tent City 3 residents now living in a vacant lot owned by Cherry Hill Baptist Church. Fauntleroy also raised over $500 through our special offering. Zack Hill calculated that with the discount that SHARE gets from Metro, $500 will purchase nearly 1,700 bus tickets for Tent City 3 residents. (Each resident receives two tickets a day.) Thank you, Fauntleroy Church! Taking refuge from the hot sun under a canopy, we sat on rickety metal chairs at a card table that had seen better days and talked for an hour with our tour guides at the encampment, Lance, Steve, and Mason. They told us that on average, 70% of TC residents are employed, but they earn insufficient wages to obtain more permanent housing. … Our hosts agreed that safety and community were also key reasons why they live at TC. They take pride in leaving an encampment area cleaner than when
they arrive, and they help police the surrounding streets to keep drug dealers and other criminals away from the neighborhood. Although they are grateful to the churches who host them, they quietly expressed irony that Christmas and Easter are the two times each year itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hardest to find a welcoming church.”
Since Fauntleroy UCC is not commenting at this point, we do not know any other backstory for their exploration of possibly hosting Tent City 3. Here is the entirety of what was mentioned in last Sunday’s church bulletin:
“The regular meeting of the Church Council on September 25 was filled with important conversations and decisions. … After a thorough conversation with guests from Tent City 3, authorized Donna Pierce, Outreach Ministry chair, to strategize a way for the congregation to engage the issue of homelessness and whether or not to invite tent city to use our parking lot.”
We are also told that the matter came up at this past week’s Fauntleroy Community Association meeting, the day before we started getting questions from people in the surrounding community. And one concerned neighbor forwarded us e-mail that the church’s Little Pilgrim preschool sent to families, which said in part:
“As you may have heard, the folks who organize Tent City 3 in the Seattle area have approached the Fauntleroy Church Council with a request to host their group here at Fauntleroy in the upper parking lots. Let me assure you, nothing has been decided. One informal congregational meeting was held. Information was shared and there were different points of view expressed. Now the council is considering whether to proceed and if so, how. The Church has not had adequate time to discuss this matter internally. We can assure you, however, that before a decision to host Tent City 3 is made, the views of neighbors and service providers in the neighborhood will be actively solicited.”
So that’s where this stands, as far as we have been able to find out: a very tentative stage of discussion inside the church, while questions and concern bubble outside, such as those expressed in a letter from one group of neighbors, sent to Fauntleroy Church’s pastor David Kratz, asking him flatly to not allow Tent City 3 on church property. We are looking into the issues raised in that letter while also waiting to hear what statement Fauntleroy Church will choose to make to the community, to calm fears and show neighbors why a gesture like this might do far more good than harm, as the church seeks to fulfill its goals, which include: “Create a culture of service so that we can compassionately respond to human need inside and outside our church..”