Hosting an Encampment

Tent City 3 welcome banner at St. Joseph's, by Ilona Berzups

What does it mean to host an encampment?

Hosting a tent city encampment involves providing a space for the camp to set up on your property for 2-3 months. It means allowing the camp to hook into to your electrical and water services. It includes educating your neighborhood about homelessness in general and about encampments in particular, and it means providing a welcoming environment for these campers in your midst.

Here are some additional types of support that various hosts have provided, depending on the need and their own interests and capacity.

  • Provide some meals
  • Allow the campers to spend the night inside during really extreme weather (e.g. snowstorms)
  • Invite the campers to religious services
  • Ask the campers to speak to the groups about their experiences of being homeless
  • Include the campers in club activities
  • Visit the campers to play chess, knit together, tell stories, play music, hang out together etc.
  • Help decorate the camp at Christmas
  • Give Christmas gifts

 Who can host an encampment?

Any organization in Seattle or Shoreline can get a temporary land use permit to host an encampment for up to three months. All you need is:

  • enough space in a parking lot or field for 35 tents, several portable toilets and a portable shower;
  • the capacity to hook up the camp to the public water and electricity grids;
  • the will to welcome this self-governing group to your neighborhood

It’s also very helpful to be near a bus line, as the campers will need access to public transportation to get to their jobs and to social services.

What’s it like to have a camp of homeless people in our neighborhood?

It’s great! An encampment is a self-governed community with an elected Executive Committee which enforces strict rules of conduct. No alcohol or drugs are allowed in camp; physical or verbal violence result in immediate expulsion; registered sex offenders may not stay there. The camp is amazingly quiet and clean. Campers realize the importance of the making sure the host organization and its community neighbors feel safe, so every camper participates in three security patrols each week, walking the neighborhood in pairs picking up any litter and by their presence contributing to the safety of the neighborhood.

Despite this, encampments often had to overcome some initial resistance from the host neighbors the first time they stay somewhere. There is a required community meeting to let neighbors know about a move of an encampment to their neighborhood. Neighbors are welcome to voice their concerns and those concerns are addressed by SHARE/WHEEL staff, Greater Seattle Cares, the host organization and the campers themselves. Typically there is no resistance at all the second time around, as the first visit is sufficient to convince the neighbors that an encampment really is a good neighbor .

We’d like to talk to some other groups who have hosted encampments.

By all means! We’ve posted a partial list of institutions who have hosted encampments and they’d be happy to talk to you about any aspect of their experience.

Also check out the article in the Seattle Times describing Seattle Pacific University’s experience hosting Tent City 3 in early 2012.

Why would we want to host an encampment?

Hosting an encampment is an educational experience, an act of service, and a wonderful opportunity to make new friends. But here’s the most compelling reason: the homed and the homeless need each other.

Encampments provide a safe place to land for many working people who just cannot afford the cost of getting into and staying in permanent housing. Some campers have physical and emotional problems which affect their ability to keep a job and an apartment. Others have a bad credit or rental history. Some are fleeing domestic violence, and some have challenges that they need to overcome before they can get into stable housing. But they are people just like the rest of the community. After hosting an encampment, members of hosting communities typically stop thinking of the campers there as “homeless people” and start seeing them instead as unique individuals who happen at this time to be homeless. And ultimately, relationships between people who are homed and people who are homeless is part of the way that the latter will and do achieve stable housing.

But there is an equal benefit to the hosts. The relationships that grow between campers and those who help them assist the helpers to grow in their understanding of how to live in community. Folks in encampments are not chronically homeless. Many had good jobs and stable families until the rug got pulled out from under them. As a culture we live in relative isolation and self-sufficiency. Seeing how campers rely on each other to “make it work” is a valuable lesson for all of us. In the end a community that ensures that everyone has a place has taken a large step toward becoming a healthier and more secure community. That is why these encampments are looking for your organization to host them.

Contacts for hosting a homeless encampment