Tent City Tacoma Story

The Story of Tent City Tacoma

Tent City Tacoma was formed in January of 2013 by some folks who were involved in the camp set up in the park at S. 21st and Pacific by some activists from Occupy Tacoma.  While the initial “campers” were activists addressing income inequality and other large social issues, it didn’t take long before homeless folks began to show up and join the camp.  With the help of activists and other supportive community members, that group grew to about 75 people with individual tents, kitchen facilities, portable toilets, wash stations, community gathering areas, media tents, etc.  This self-organized and self-governed community lasted for four months and, when asked by the owners of the property, WSDOT, to vacate the land, all the structures were removed and the site was cleaned up in a peaceful, respectful manner.

A few months later, some of the people who had lived at and helped administer the camp raised the following issue within an Occupy Tacoma meeting: could it not be possible to replicate that safe-and-secure place for homeless people somewhere else in the city, with community approval and support?

The activists who had homes returned to them when the camp disbanded.  The homeless residents who had for a brief period of time experienced a safe, secure and empowered community returned to their daily scramble to find places to sleep, food to eat, and ways to deal with their basic hygiene needs.  Some returned to shelters but those are very temporary solutions which, though much improved over conditions not too many years back, still don’t address many of the needs of homeless folks.  Some of our members had lived in a few of the Tent Cities in Seattle and felt it was time for Tacoma to provide that option here at home.  Thus Tent City Tacoma was launched and a team began meeting independently of the continuing Occupy Tacoma group to make this vision a reality.

Over the past year or so, a small group of dedicated people have created an online presence, written documents to be used by the camp residents and host institutions, started outreach to some of the local religious organizations and worked with the City of Tacoma’s Planning Department to hammer out new code language to cover Temporary Homeless Camps.

The RCW (Washington State laws) gives religious organizations the right to host these temporary homeless camps with minimal restrictions from the City.  We are now in a position to create our first legally-permitted and regulated but self-organized community for some of our homeless neighbors.  All that work has brought us to the point of needing the help of those who have property, supplies, and funds which are required to help this vital “city within the city” become a reality.

What would that help look like?  The City Planning Department has identified a list of over 40 religiously owned or controlled properties within Tacoma city limits that meet the criteria they have set for host sites.  There are others that didn’t appear on that list but which we have confirmed are appropriate for a tent city.  Hosting a Tent City Tacoma on a church-controlled site involves a 3-4 month stay at any one time. Churches which have a good experience hosting this “mobile community” often choose to have it return on a regular basis.  Church leaders who want to know more about the experience of hosting will be put in touch with congregations which have an extended “track record” they are happy to share.


Congregations that don’t have the land available can still help by (1) raising money for initial set up and ongoing expenses, (2) organizing donations of food and other needed materials (tents, pallets, etc.), (3) volunteering time and effort to set up the camps, (4) doing outreach to the surrounding community, and (5) raising awareness of the dire situation we face regarding our growing homeless population.


So what’s the next step? Those who are moved to help our development team are invited to join it. It meets the first and third Mondays of each month at 4:00 p.m., at the First United Methodist Church, 621 Tacoma Avenue South (enter under the First Tower sign). Those congregations open to considering the ministry of hosting Tent City are invited to contact the development team so that two or three members can come to talk with their leaders.  The team has a brief PowerPoint presentation on the need, how we plan to address it and some of the concerns that often come up regarding homeless camps.   The team can be reached through its website (tentcitytacoma.net), by email at (tentcitytacoma@gmail.com), by phone (253-882-7577), or our Facebook page (TentCityTacoma )

This is the story to date. It will continue until the urgent need is being met as best this great Tacoma community can!

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