Thursday, February 23, 2017

First Visit to a Homeless Camp

 By Christy Houghton 

I’m a new writer for Greater Seattle Cares (GSC). This is my first article. Before volunteering with GSC, my experience with the homeless came from the TV news, and seeing (and smelling) drunk and dirty people begging on the streets near Pike Place Market or Pioneer Square in Seattle. So, when I made my first visit to Camp United We Stand, an organized, self-managed transitional encampment in Shoreline, I was in for some surprises.

Safer Than My Own Neighborhood 
I live in the suburbs, where a woman can walk alone at night - alert, but unafraid. My neighborhood, though, doesn't have anywhere near the level of security that I found at Camp United We Stand. Only one entrance to the small homeless encampment; and before going in further, a camp resident politely insisted that I write the time, my name, and purpose for the visit in their guest notebook. He also warned me that no alcohol or drugs are permitted in the camp.

Wary but Welcoming 
Before my visit, I told myself that I had no business at a homeless camp, and the people there would resent my presence. I’d thought that homeless people preferred to be invisible in our society, and steeled myself for hostility or at least indifference. Then I met Christopher, Tom, Monty, and Isaac. They welcomed me to the camp with kindness, and willingly posed for pictures after hearing that I was a new writer for GSC. I learned that just like everyone else, they want to be seen and heard and respected.
Isaac and Bowser, outside of Camp United We Stand
Cleaner Than You'd Think 
Everyone I met appeared as clean as people without a shower on premises could possibly be expected to look. The camp was well-maintained, orderly, and spotless. If I hadn’t known it was a homeless camp, I might’ve asked about the campground rates.

Some Problems are Small Enough to Fix 
Christopher was one of the three resident ECs (elected Executive Council member) that week, and in charge. When he showed me the Donation Tent, Christopher pointed out that they were short on men’s pants, sizes 30-39. They also needed a stapler before Move Day. I have an extra stapler at home. I had thought that if you help the homeless, you enable the homeless problem to continue. Greater Seattle Cares helped me see that people must have their basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and safety met before they can even think about next steps to improve their lives.

Even Little Things Make a Difference 
Before volunteering as a writer for GSC, I worried that it would make me feel bad to know more about the homeless problem because it’s so big that I couldn’t make a difference. I learned that even little things make a difference. Listening to someone, and speaking with respect and warmth. Writing about real people in our community, who want to be seen and heard. I can do these things.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Special request for Camp Unity Eastside

02/19/17: Camp Unity Eastside needs the following. 

If you can provide any of these items, please drop them off at Camp Unity Eastside, St. Jude Parish, or call Greater Seattle Cares to arrange a pick-up.
  • Financial donations to help fund ongoing expenses such as for insurance, garbage, and basic maintenance and operations of the camp vehicle. Donations are tax deductible. If you can help, please mail your donation to Camp Unity Eastside, PO Box 342, Redmond, WA 98073.
  • A thermos coffee carafe
  • powder creamer
  • sugar
  • sugar free hot chocolate
  • bottled water
  • aspirin
  • hand sanitizer
  • Tums
  • Pepto Bismol
  • grocery cards
  • ORCA cards
  • 4 large and 1 extra large knee braces
  • 1 gallon Ziploc bags
  • duct tape
  • 30 gallon trash can size black trash bags or contractor bags
  • paper towels
  • needle & sewing kit
  • AAA and 6V batteries
  • HP 63 Black Printer ink
  • 11” zip ties
  • shower curtain and rings
  • shower cleaner
  • 3 cots for sleeping.

Residents seeking work: While some of the residents are currently employed, others are not and are actively seeking employment. Among the skills these men and women have are experience with data entry, call center staffing, administrative skills in a corporate setting, organization, event planning and coordination, and hauling and delivery services.  
Please consider these campers if you have a need for any of these services
The best way to follow up is to call Camp Unity at 425-652-9170 and talk with the camper who is staffing the front desk at that time. They can connect you with campers who are seeking employment.

Monday, February 6, 2017

We sent an email to Shoreline City Council

Shoreline City Council was considering passing an ordinance that would have made hosting an encampment nearly impossible for most churches in Shoreline.

GSC's President, Cindy Roat, wrote an email letter on behalf of the Board of GSC.

Here's what it said:
Dear members of the Shoreline City Council,

This email is a request to the City Council to consider alternative language to the proposed amendments to the Shoreline zoning code that will affect transitional encampments in the city. These proposed amendments do not reflect the spirit of the directive that the City Council gave to the Planning Council, nor do they reflect the overall spirit of support that Shoreline residents have demonstrated for homeless populations over the past eight years.

I am writing as President of Greater Seattle Cares, a small non-profit organization serving four transitional encampments in the Puget Sound area. I myself am a Shoreline resident since 2003, serving the homeless since 2009, and I have always been proud of the support that this community has shown to individuals who are experiencing homelessness. Permitted encampments have found hosts here in Shoreline since Tent City 3 first came to Calvin Presbyterian Church in 2009, and many churches have since hosted camps with no problems, inspiring amazing levels of moral and material support from families in the surrounding neighborhoods. In late 2015, the City Council passed Resolution 379, in which the Council directed the city’s Planning Commission to review the city zoning codes with a view to reducing barriers even more for people experiencing homelessness in this community. Our Mayor, Chris Roberts, has even taken time out of his busy schedule to visit Camp United We Stand, one of the camps currently hosted in Shoreline. This personal interest meant a lot to the residents of that camp: people who often feel slighted, ignored, or actively ostracized because of their housing status, but who have felt accepted and welcomed in Shoreline.

Considering the degree to which so many of the people of Shoreline and their representatives in government have shown great compassion to those who are homeless, Greater Seattle Cares is chagrined to see the proposed amendments to the zoning code that are the results of the Planning Commission’s recent work. These proposed amendments do not reflect the spirit of the directive given to the Planning Council. Instead of lowering barriers for people experiencing homelessness, they will instead make it more difficult for churches and other organizations in Shoreline to host formal encampments. Specifically, the required 20-foot set-back will make almost 90% of the churches in Shoreline ineligible to host an encampment. The requirement for a “managing agency” that owns or leases the land on which the camp resides creates another barrier and ignores the successful relationships that these self-managing camps have had over the years with their church hosts.

In fact, some parts of these amendments may have legal implications for the city.
·         The federal land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc, et seq., protect individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws. In particular, the law protects against any “land use regulation that . . . unreasonably limits religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.” Since the provision of sanctuary to the poor and homeless is a long-standing, even ancient, right of religious institutions, the two stipulations mentioned above could be construed as in effect placing the city out of compliance with RLUIPA. For more information on RLUIPA, see

·         State laws RCW 35.21.915 and RCW 35A.21.360 also prohibit local government from taking any action that “imposes conditions other than those necessary to protect public health and safety and that do not substantially burden the decisions or actions of a religious organization regarding the location of housing or shelter for homeless persons on property owned by the religious organization.” The limitations described above that would be created by the proposed amendments have nothing at all to do with public health and safety.

Respecting the work of the Planning Commission, and realizing that those unfamiliar with permitted transitional encampments often misconstrue how these function, Greater Seattle Cares would like to propose alternative language to parts of the proposed amendments to the zoning code. I attach these suggested changes, written in Microsoft Word with the “track changes” function. We hope that you will adopt them as you vote on January 30th, or that you will send the entire amendment package back to the Planning Commission for revision, with clear instructions about the nature of the changes to be made.

Thank you for your dedicated work on behalf of the citizens of Shoreline. Please show that you stand for ALL of Shoreline’s citizens, even those who are having difficulties in their lives.

Cindy Roat

Cynthia E. Roat, MPH
President, Greater Seattle Cares

You can read the entire letter online here, at Shoreline's public comments page. You can also see many other people's comments about the matter, including those of Michael Ramos (Church Council of Greater Seattle), Alison Niebauer (Calvin Presbyterian), and Prince of Peace Lutheran. We'd like to thank everyone who commented against the ordinance as proposed.

Homelessness Advocacy 101 Workshop

Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness is conducting workshops on Advocacy!

Per their website,

Our workshops are fun! We'll discuss the funding proposals for shelter, housing, and supportive services currently being considered and review the steps that everyone can take to make sure housing and homelessness concerns are prioritized in our local government. Nancy Amidei, an incomparable pro-democracy cheerleader, local policy experts, and Coalition staff will present details about 3-4 important issues. We'll provide you with simple actions, sample messages, and the chance to practice your skills. You will leave informed and inspired with tools for engaging your classmates, fellow congregants, neighbors and others to speak up and make a difference.

Dates are February 22, February 26, and March 5.

Registration is required, so head for their website and sign up!