Tent City 3 in Northeast Seattle: Questions & Answers



Photo of “Tent City 3” in Seattle’s University District on a church parking lot at NE 45th Street and 15th Ave NE in October 2022. The Unitarian church in Bryant/Wedgwood (on 35th Ave NE) is planning to host Tent City 3 March through May 2023. (Note: While organizations in our Council District have hosted Tent City 3 multiple times, this is different than the Tiny Home Village with case management for which I secured the site and funding in the heart of the U District.)

Context: For the City government’s ongoing and increasing efforts to reduce homelessness, please see Mayor Bruce Harrell’s Homelessness Action Plan (CLICK HERE) and the website of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (CLICK HERE). This blog post about a single entity and site (Tent City 3) should be considered within the broader context of the large-scale local, regional, state, and federal efforts to reduce homelessness. Thank you.


Introduction: Welcome to this ongoing informational post about “Tent City 3.” As you may know, Tent City 3 comprises a few dozen people experiencing homelessness and living in this authorized, roving, self-managed encampment that has a stated policy of requiring sobriety (high-barrier shelter). Unfortunately, Tent City 3 provides no formal case management services for its residents and does not measure outcomes, such as how many people transition successfully into permanent housing. Tent City 3 has, for many years, rotated among different church parking lots (including in Seattle’s University District), as authorized by City ordinances. Tent City 3’s surprising proposal announced in October 2022 to rotate temporarily (during March through May 2023) to a different church location near Bryant/Wedgwood inspired this ongoing blog post to provide information to the many people raising concerns and asking questions. The faith-based organization planning to host the Tent City 3 encampment is the “University” Unitarian Church located at 6556 35th Avenue NE, diagonally across from the Northeast branch of the Seattle Public Library. While everyone should contact the Unitarian Church for information, my office receives many questions; hence this blog post to provide key information in a convenient place for constituents.

Clarification: Tent City 3 is NOT a “tiny home village.” For information about the “Rosie’s” Tiny Home Village with its professional case management in the U District, CLICK HERE. While Tent City 3 has, as a last resort, temporarily (and illegally) set up its tents on public right-of-way (2019 and 2014) when they are stranded between the end date and start date of the churches hosting them, Tent City 3 is NOT a random, unorganized, illegal encampment that you might see in parks, on sidewalks, or along I-5.



OCTOBER 26, 2022

I advised the Unitarian Church at 6556 35th Ave NE to work with Tent City 3 to find a more practical location with a church host closer to more robust public transit (such as light rail) and to services for people experiencing homelessness.

I am not taking a formal position on the Unitarian Church’s persistent efforts to temporarily host this encampment, in large part, because the 2020 land use law expanded by the Seattle City Council by a vote by 8 to 1 (I was the one vote against it), does not provide Councilmembers with authority to prohibit or redirect such operations.

Please know that I repeatedly shared with the University Unitarian Church leaders the concerns from constituents (including complaints about the church’s inadequate outreach), and I alerted surrounding community groups to the church’s proposal because the church had not informed them. 

I learned about the church’s plans in October 2022* and I attended the public meeting the church had on October 25. [*Note: this post originally said “toward the end of October,” but we double-checked that our office received at least an email notification from a church member during the first week of October. Apologies if that difference of a couple of weeks created any confusion.]

When it became clear to me that the church had not alerted nearby community groups, I alerted them:  Ravenna Bryant Community Association, the Wedgwood Community Council, the View Ridge Community Council, and the Hawthorne Hills Community Council. I advised the church that they should do more community outreach before making a final decision (Tent City 3 would not arrive until March 2023.) While the church is altruistically welcoming the encampment, the church employees and the church members should acknowledged that they will not be present at that site during the evening hours, whereas the existing neighbors around the site will be present.

For updates, ask the Unitarian Church to put you on their email list (uuchomelessness@gmail.com) and/or consider subscribing to my monthly e-newsletter by CLICKING HERE. Here’s what I sent to community groups toward the end of October 2022:

“Just a heads up that my office was recently informed that the Unitarian Church on 35th Ave NE (between NE 65th and 68th Streets) is seeking to host in their parking lot a homeless encampment (Tent City 3): https://www.uuchurch.org/proposal-to-host-tent-city-3/

The church and Tent City 3 are having a community meeting to hear input Tuesday, Oct 25, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. at the Unitarian Church: 6556 35th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115.

My office connected with Reverend Jon Luopa to ask several questions about the wisdom and feasibility of this altruistic effort, which their church has never before undertaken.

Questions? Contact Reverend Jon Luopa at jon.luopa@uuchurch.org and cc: uuchomelessness@gmail.com. Main line: 206-525-8400. Among the church members leading the charge on this are Cynthia Salzman and Dave Mentz.

Here’s what we know so far…

·         Timing: While there is a community input meeting Tuesday, October 25, 2022, the Unitarian Church is planning to host Tent City 3 March through May 2023 (approximately 90 days). A key question would then be, does Tent City 3 have a commitment for a site AFTER the Unitarian Church? (We had a self-managed encampment that came to Wallingford for 1 year and it’s been there for 3 years.)

·         The encampment organization: Tent City 3 uses a “self-management” model, operates outside of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (though KCRHA has money to pay for utilities), and does not publish any results as to whether it successfully transitions people from tents to housing. According to UW (a periodic host), Tent City 3 typically comprises 60 to 100 people in the parking lot with about half as many tents. Per the Unitarian Church website, “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. Currently, at University Congregational Church, there are about 55 residents.

·         The Unitarian Church: While they are called “University Unitarian Church,” they are not located in the U District, but rather miles northeast of that in Bryant/Wedgwood on 35th Avenue NE north of NE 65th Street (6556 35th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115). We asked the church to connect with KCRHA to get advice.

·         Authority under current law: As you may know, Seattle’s land use policies have enabled faith-based organizations to host / sponsor encampments under Seattle’s Municipal Code. In 2020, the City Council adopted an ordinance (Council Bill 119656) expanding that authority (allowing encampments to abut single family neighborhoods), which I voted against because it was marketed as being for “tiny homes” while the actual legislation was written for tents (no structure required; no case management/results required). Nevertheless, District 4 has actively hosted this mobile encampment several times (both officially and unofficially). Currently, Tent City 3 is in the parking lot of a different church in the U District (15th Ave NE and NE 45th Street near the U District light rail station) and then UW is scheduled to host Tent City 3 January through mid-March 2023 on the southside of Husky Stadium light rail station.  (We’ve also put in place a high quality tiny home village in the U District and fortunately that village has durable, heated structures and professional case management.) According to the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI), “Encampments located on property owned or controlled by a religious organization do not require a permit per SMC 23.42.054.B.7. [However] They do need to submit to us a site plan and we do an inspection.

The proposed Bryant/Wedgwood location for Tent City 3 might work, but it seems challenging, including its long distance to services and light rail, the church’s lack of experience with such a heart-felt but difficult endeavor, and questions about Tent City 3’s next location.

My City Council office is eager to hear how the Unitarian Church hopes to address the multiple concerns.”


MORE INFORMATION:

  • For the Unitarian Church’s website about this issue, CLICK HERE.
  • To contact the Unitarian Church about this, send an email to: uuchomelessness@gmail.com
  • For the Unitarian Church’s “Questions & Answers” document, as of November 9, 2022, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Tent City 3 website, CLICK HERE.
  • Because the University of Washington has hosted Tent City 3 previously, here’s UW’s recent “fact sheet”: CLICK HERE.
  • For a relatively recent (March 8, 2022) TV news story about Tent City 3, CLICK HERE.
© 1995-2016 City of Seattle