Regional & Community Relations

Learning from and with our neighbors

Volunteers help raise a tent during Tent City 3's move-in

Students, faculty and staff helped residents set up Tent City 3 – community building in the literal and figurative sense – in December 2016

Homelessness is a crisis in Seattle, with the 2018 annual count revealing that 6,320 people in King County were unsheltered, and 12,112 overall experiencing homelessness, up 4 percent from 2017.

As one part of the community’s response to this crisis, the University of Washington hosted an organized tent city community – Tent City 3 – on its Seattle campus for 90 days, from December 17, 2016 to March 18, 2017, coinciding with the 2017 winter quarter. This effort arose from a request by the Tent City Collective – a group of UW students, alumni and Tent City 3 residents who had been working with faculty, academic departments and local civic leaders to bring Tent City 3 to the UW. While organized tent cities are not a solution to homelessness, they do provide safe shelter as residents seek stable housing.

By all accounts, Tent City 3’s stay at the UW was a success, thanks to the planning, work and generous spirit of residents, students, faculty, staff and alumni. That assessment is supported by the results of a program evaluation conducted by the School of Public Health. Hosting provided service learning opportunities in line with the UW’s educational mission and furthered our role as a public university committed to helping solve the challenges of our city, state and world.

Partnering with Tent City 3

Tent City 3 was chosen because of its code of conduct and strong reputation, including with Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University, which previously hosted the community on their campuses. Tent City 3 provides safe, secure temporary housing to individuals and families, rotating locations every 90 days. The stay at the UW wasn’t Tent City 3’s first stay in the U District, with one of the locations prior to the stay at the UW being in spring 2016 at University Congregational United Church of Christ, NE 45th Street and 15th Avenue NE, across the street from the University.

Tent City 3’s code of conduct includes bans on alcohol, drugs, weapons, violence and open fires. All prospective Tent City residents are checked for sex offender status and individuals on the registry cannot stay. The UW and SHARE, which oversees Tent City 3, signed an agreement setting out the responsibilities during the hosting, as well as establishing a safety and security plan. In addition to donations made by individuals, student groups and professional organizations, the Tent City Collective raised money, including through USEED@UW, to adhere to the stipulation that no taxpayer or tuition funds would be used.

Forging educational connections

During Tent City 3’s stay on campus, numerous connections between residents and members of the UW community were made. The Carlson Leadership & Public Service Center served as a liaison for opportunities, which included eight courses that incorporated issues related to homelessness into their curriculum.

  • ENGL 121: Social Issues Composition (Homelessness) – Shane Pederson
  • ENVIR 439: Sustainable Societies – Elizabeth Wheat
  • HSERV 538: Program Evaluation – Amy Hagopian
  • HONORS 397A: Engaging Homelessness – Vicky Lawson
  • MEDEX 580: Homelessness in Seattle – Lois Thetford and Charlotte Sanders
  • NSG 552: Social Determinants of Health and Health Equity – Wendy Barrington
  • ORALM 651: Health and Homelessness – Bea Gandara
  • PUB POL 564: Housing and Social Policy – Rachel Fyall

Additionally, several clinics and other service days were held and numerous units, professional organizations, student groups and individuals made connections, whether through shared meals or simply the daily interactions that come from being neighbors.

Community feedback vital to hosting

The decision to host came after a two-month process of securing public feedback. In response to President Cauce’s March 31, 2016 message, nearly 1,000 individuals e-mailed thoughts; dozens more attended the town hall meetings. By a 2-to-1 margin, e-mail responses favored hosting, and there was similar support at town halls. Faculty and departments expressed eagerness to incorporate service learning into curricula, and local elected officials and community leaders also supported the effort.

Map of Parking Lot W35 - Location of Tent City 3 during its time on campusThe UW’s working group evaluated a full range of issues related to security, safety, health and sanitation to ensure the well-being of all community members. Several UW departments expressed interest in providing services to residents, such as health clinics, and said hosting would present many service learning opportunities for students. After considering all aspects of hosting, the group established guidelines, which were incorporated in the operating agreement.

The working group studied a wide range of sites, considering safety; transit access; logistics; privacy for residents; the need for a hard, level surface; and access for students and faculty who choose to participate in hosting-related learning opportunities. Based on these criteria, and after consultation with UW units and businesses in the area, parking lot W35 was selected as the preferred location.

Prospects for hosting again

This hosting was in many ways a pilot, so will the UW host Tent City 3 or another similar community again? As President Cauce wrote on her blog the week of Tent City 3’s March 2017 departure, a decision to host again will in part be based on student involvement. “The Tent City Collective did its homework and gathered support on and off campus before presenting a proposal,” she wrote. “Students remained engaged and have done tremendous work, in addition to their class loads, in order to make the stay a success. Future hosting will be contingent on having that same level of student engagement.”

Cauce also wrote that the decision will be guided in part by the final results of the evaluation conducted by the School of Public Health’s program evaluation course, which included surveys of and interviews with residents, students, faculty, staff and area businesses.

But in the meantime, Cauce urged everyone to “please remember that TC3’s residents – and the many other individuals and families in our community without reliable shelter – are our neighbors, wherever they may spend the night. For those of us who connected with TC3’s residents, whether for a day or a quarter, it is a lesson we will not soon forget – and one that I hope will lead to action to finally end the crisis of homelessness in our community.”