Seattle’s oldest self-managed tent encampment will move to a church in Tukwila on Sept. 7 after a brief stint on public property in the Ravenna neighborhood.
Tent City 3, which currently houses approximately 50 people, moves every three months to a new site, but negotiations with a church property fell through over an insurance issue, said Michelle Atwood, spokesperson for the camp.
The confusion left the campers with no legal place to go for the first time in nearly five years.
“We don’t care to live on public land like this,” Atwood said. “It’s unsettling. The stability we normally provide, the safety we normally provide is different when you’re on public land.”
The spot that the campers moved to is owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation and maintained by the city of Seattle.
After the news broke of Tent City 3’s displacement, leadership of the Riverton Park United Methodist Church reached out to the campers, some of whom have stayed at the church in the past.
Religious institutions have the ability to host tent encampments. Universities can also host — Tent City 3 has set up at the University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University in the past.
The temporal constraints on Tent City 3’s use of church property are largely self imposed.
The participants made the decision to move every three months in order to minimize their impact on a given neighborhood and ensure that they will be welcomed back in the future, a point they made in an Aug. 17 letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan explaining why they were leaving the University Congregational United Church without another place to go.
“In addition to their compassion and sense of justice, they also host us because we keep our word,” participants wrote. “They have other important uses for their land, and we respect that.”
The Ravenna neighborhood has been welcoming outside of a few encounters with hostile people,” Atwood said.
“We’ve only had a couple of folks be angry that we’re here,” Atwood said, noting that other neighbors were dropping off supplies and offering money for the gas generator that powers the encampment.
Under normal circumstances, amenities like water and power would be provided through the host church. Lacking those services, the campers have had to rely on temporary solutions such as the kindness of strangers.
The tents are packed tightly at the Ravenna location, but the encampment is well organized and clean with temporary bathroom facilities, hygiene sites and trash receptacles.
If an alternative site could not be found, the campers might have been without another spot until December. While city officials had no immediate plans to sweep the encampment, they did send outreach workers and the newly created position of systems navigators out to meet with the campers.
However, Atwood said, they haven’t had a lot of luck. The outreach teams have gone to Tent City 3 during the day, when many of the residents are working.
In a blog post explaining the situation on the city’s webpage about the homelessness response, officials wrote that campers have expressed that they do not want to stay at the site for an indefinite amount of time, and that services are being offered through the Navigation Team and contracted outreach workers.
They also requested assistance from the public to identify a new spot for Tent City 3.
While the campers didn’t want to stay on the site forever, they did want a respite.
“We’re exhausted,” Atwood said.
Moving a site like Tent City 3 is a two-day project.
Campers wake up at 5:30 a.m., have a meeting at 5:45 and then start breaking the site down and loading everything onto trucks. It’s like deconstructing and reconstructing a fully operational shelter including hygiene stations, a kitchen, a bookkeeping office and other facilities.
Campers then return to the previous site to perform any final cleanup.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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