In the last 19 months, I have worked on getting a Bill (ESHB 1754) through our State Legislature. This Bill defined the Church’s “Right” to perform their ministries on their property without undue interference from local municipalities. This has been a continuing problem for churches in aiding the unsheltered populations throughout our Diocese, including here in Tacoma. These Rights were established by Federal Law in the year 2000 via the REULPA Act. Unfortunately, this forced churches into Federal Court in order to protect unsheltered people being helped by churches. Case in point: Chaplains on the Harbor, a ministry of our Diocese in Grays County. 

Through my work on the Diocesan Homeless Taskforce, and the Community Quarterly Meetings with Associated Ministries, I have noted some very innovative ideas that smaller churches and Faith Communities could focus on. One is Safe Parking. Currently in King County over 50% of the unsheltered live in vehicles. (I do not have the numbers in Pierce County yet. I suspect that they are similar.) Most of the unsheltered population are not drug addicts. They are people that have experienced traumas of various kinds, including being priced out of their apartments. We are seeing many elderly people trying to find shelter. Families are the most difficult to serve, mostly because they do not want to be seen as homeless. There is a fear of CPS taking their children. 

I want to propose to you that we start conversations in what we can do as a congregation to do our small part to aid some of the unsheltered. Three areas that we may discuss are Safe Parking, Tiny Houses, or a Tent City. I would suggest assisting 6 to 10 households; this number is more conducive to smaller churches. The smaller groups will develop their own self-policing with some guidance. I also believe that this fits the housing resolution put forth at the last Diocesan Convention. These three programs are transitional housing – a step out of homelessness. Such programs call for a commitment of up to a year for those in transition. Most programs to put homeless people into housing fail, because after three months the financing stops, and the same lack of skills that put people into homelessness has not been satisfied. The immediate trauma of being unsheltered can last as long as a year. 

With the passage of ESHB 1754, there is beginning to be some interest among churches in our Diocese, and I am reaching out to the City of Tacoma to see what support they may provide. During this quarantine I am not asking for something to be done immediately, except for making this a discussion topic. 

St Andrew’s (all of us) can do a small but important part in the lives of some God’s children. We can provide a safe, clean, and stable environment in which to transition out of homelessness. Remember Jesus’ second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. 

Currently in Pierce County, there are approximately 9,000 people unsheltered. Roughly 80% of those people are not addicts. Each one has their own story of how they became unsheltered. What is needed is transitional housing to help people move out of homelessness. 

I cannot imagine all of the questions that you may have. I am forming an exploratory committee to generate questions and possible answers about what we might and can do here at St Andrews. If you feel called to join this committee, please notify me and expect a prompt reply. 

Jeffrey Boyce
Diocesan Missioner to the Homeless, Pierce County
360-860-1711 (text please) 

Shelter for the Unsheltered by Jeffrey Boyce