On August 9, 2019, representatives from Tent City 3 approached our Diocesan Property Manager, the Rev. Dennis Tierney, about the possibility of relocating to the site of the former St. George’s Episcopal Church in the Lake City neighborhood of Seattle. Plans for Tent City 3’s next site had fallen through, and the group needed to move to a new location in eight days. This was the third request since July of 2019 by groups seeking to use the site for temporary encampments. Due to the possibility for exposure to hazardous materials during the abatement of asbestos and other toxic materials on the property, all three groups were denied use of the property by our Diocesan Board of Directors.
Over the last several days, clergy and parishioners throughout the diocese have contacted our office to ask that the request by Tent City 3 be approved. As these communications with our office contain inaccurate information about the current situation, the Board of Directors and the Office of the Bishop are presenting the following details concerning the property in question and our diocese’s long history of hosting temporary encampments and supporting unhoused individuals.
According to diocesan records, Tent City 3 was on location at the Lake City property from October of 2016 through January of 2017. Based on information supplied by individuals knowledgeable about Tent City 3, the organization held earlier encampments on this property on four other occasions. Tent City 3 has used other Episcopal church sites, including Saint Mark’s Cathedral, on other occasions. When organizations like Tent City 3 make requests for use of space with parishes, it is up to the governing body of the parish to make that determination. When such requests are made for space on property under the direct supervision of the diocese itself, these requests are reviewed and approved by the Board of Directors.
Another organization, Camp United We Stand, sponsored by St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Shoreline, requested and received permission to use the property at Lake City from March 2017 through June 2017, and a second encampment from May 2018 through August 2018.
This one piece of property has been used to host temporary encampments every year since 2016 when the church that was originally on the property was closed.
St. George occupied the site from its purchase in 1959 until May of 2011, when the congregation voted to disband and return the property and all its liabilities to the diocese. This is standard procedure when congregations vote to disband. The diocese worked with St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Seattle to maintain the building and site as St. George’s Community Center. This was a costly effort that lost money every year, and the group operating the center faced large repair costs due to the pattern of deferred maintenance that was set in the final years of the active congregation. Thus, the center closed in June 2016.
In 2016, the Board of Directors reviewed several options for the property. The building was evaluated and judged to be unsalable due to significant structural problems. The board declined to spend the necessary funds to bring the building up to code and declined to sell the building and property “as is.” A final decision was made to sign a development agreement to convert the site to approximately nine modestly sized, single-family homes. The planning process began in early 2017 and has continued to the present as the City of Seattle has a very careful and judicious process in place. Due to the property’s location within the Thornton Creek watershed, all development must undergo a more thorough review and permitting process than the typical single-family development. This includes Critical Area Studies and a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review. These reviews are ongoing.
In July of 2019, the Board of Directors received two requests to use the property for a temporary encampment. One was from Camp United We Stand and the other from a new organization seeking to work with individuals who camp in their cars. On August 9, a third request was received from Tent City 3.
While reviewing the expected activities at the property site, the Board of Directors realized that the next steps in the development process involved the abatement of asbestos and other hazardous materials, activities that would be unsafe for individuals living on the property. The building contains extensive amounts of asbestos and other toxic materials which must be removed. In accordance with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and City of Seattle regulations, abatement experts in full hazmat protection will be removing all hazardous materials, including all of the building’s vinyl flooring, drywall, and aluminum clad windows. These materials will be placed in large dumpsters located on the site and must remain fully secured until removed from the property by a licensed and bonded contractor to a federally approved hazardous material disposal site. Once abatement has been completed, all power and water will be disconnected. These required abatement activities make the property in Lake City unusable and unsafe for individuals in temporary encampments. Thus, the Board of Directors has declined the requests from all three organizations due to concerns for the safety of the those who would be living on the property.
If you have any further questions about the property or the current situation, please contact the Office of the Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 206.325.4200.