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A demolition, a homeless camp, and townhouses: the 22nd Ave story of Cherry Hill Baptist Church

22nd Ave’s Cherry Hill Baptist Church — in the background, Tent City 3 has settled in across E Cherry

An 118-year-old Black church in the Central District lined up for demolition. A homeless encampment at the center of the city’s debate on how it should best approach providing housing to its residents most in need. A planned development that will build 14 townhouses that probably won’t be affordable but will help increase available stock in a booming city desperate for new housing. It’s a modern day Seattle story at 22nd Ave and Cherry.

Today, it’s mostly cold and wet. Tent City 3, recently moved in on church property behind the AM/PM and gas station at the corner, provides shelter to around 50 people. The New York Times just wrote about the camp and its most recent stay at Seattle Pacific University. “Some other cities grappling with homelessness, especially on the West Coast, have set aside places to allow camps or have opted not to enforce laws on outdoor camping for periods of time,” the New York Times remarks. “But the Seattle area went further into the experiment: It has, over the course of more than a decade, gradually allowed 11 camps to become permanent features of the landscape.”

The camps are also permanently on the move. Tent City 3 is now resident on land owned by Cherry Hill Baptist Church. Across the street, Pastor Willie Seals has big plans.

According to county records, the pastor’s church has a “memorandum of real estate purchase and sale agreement” for the property with 23rd Ave S. developer DEP Homes. No dollar amounts are included in the document filed in January. An early proposal filed with the city indicates a plan for “14 new live-work units in three structures.” It also calls for demolition of the 1900-built church.

Seals has not responded to CHS’s inquiries on the project and a representative at DEP Homes declined to comment when we reached him by phone Wednesday.

Neighbors are talking about the coming changes on 22nd Ave and doing what they can to help the new visitors at Tent City 3. One group was organizing donations to help the camp with supplies during Seattle’s recent cold snap. A wish list for the camp is posted here. Another neighbor says she hopes to organize a meeting on the planned development. But don’t go looking for NIMBY backlash — she says her concerns are mostly about ending drug activity around the property. And parking concerns, of course.

Despite a loss of funding support from City Hall, Tent City 3 and SHARE, the nonprofit that runs and organizes the camps, continue to provide shelter as Seattle debates how best to apply millions of dollars toward housing and affordability. To build the apartment units required, the city and county would need somewhere around $5.1 billion to permanently shelter the more than 30,000 people in the region in need. That’s not going to happen.

Some like Kshama SawantDistrict 3 representative and chair of the City Council’s new new committee dedicated to homelessness services and renters rights, are fighting to see SHARE’s funding restored. But Mayor Jenny Durkan is steering her city toward so-called “bridge housing” and away from emergency and shorter-term solutions, a framework likely to produce more “live-work” townhouses and fewer tent cities.

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4 thoughts on “A demolition, a homeless camp, and townhouses: the 22nd Ave story of Cherry Hill Baptist Church

  1. I support Mayor Durkan’s approach. Tent cities, while necessary in the short run, just enable people to remain homeless.

    • Of all the issues facing people that “cause” or “enable” homelessness, the existence of tent cities, which by their nature are at present sheltering people from the elements who don’t have other options in the present, is not as simple as you make it out to be. I’m more concerned about the root causes of homelessness itself, not stigmatizing actions to shelter people, when by definition, the city has failed on the whole. Stagnant wages, income inequality, exploitative corporations, failings in the health care system around mental health and addiction, domestic violence, homophobia, transphobia, many other issues are at root cause. Tent cities may be an imperfect solution but they do not enable or cause homelessness. They are necessary shelter from a cruel, uncaring system.

    • Of course the tent cities do no cause homelessness. Yes, it is important to do as much as possible about the “root causes,” but progress on the things you mention will be very, very slow….decades. So what do we do in the meantime? I would say we emphasize getting people into permanent housing (with associated wrap-around services like mental health and addiction treatment), which is exactly the approach that Mayor Durkan is taking.