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 https://www.justice.gov/crt/religious-land-use-and-institutionalized-persons-act.

·         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.

Sincerely,
Cindy Roat

Cynthia E. Roat, MPH
President, Greater Seattle Cares
www.greaterseattlecares.org

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.