Church Facility and Safe Parking

“We are often called to do the difficult, if not the seemingly impossible, and it is vital to our spiritual growth that we not ignore these challenges.”  – Janice Marie Johnson, UU educator, faith leader, activist


Tahoma Unitarian Universalist CongregationAt the September 17, 2020 meeting, Tahoma Unitarian Universalist Congregation Board of Trustees approved forming an Ad Hoc Committee charged with seeking options to improve TUUC building and grounds security. The Committee – Thomas Oliver, convener, Cat Bilnoski, Holly Coryell, Cindy Hackett, and David Pettit – has been meeting every Wednesday since October and has explored a variety of options to improve security.

Background: Many of you are aware that our grounds have historically been used as a depository for trash and human waste (and sometimes fires), particularly in the sheltered areas. The incidents have increased since we have not been meeting onsite on Sundays and the staff have been working more from home (safety in the time of COVID.) How do we know this? Libby Ball, Church Administrator, monitors the security cameras, and visits the building to confirm what she sees on camera. In June, we authorized payment to a company that deals in waste removal to clean up the grounds, discussed with concern a proposal for fencing the sheltered areas and ultimately decided to get a congregational meeting on the calendar in October to review and make a decision about that proposal. Our concerns about the alignment with the fencing project and our values were well outlined by an articulate letter from the Social Justice Committee in opposition to the fencing proposal, noting that the action was not in alignment with our Purposes and Principles. The Board agreed, put the fencing proposal on hold and established the Ad Hoc Committee to seek other options.

Actions: The Ad Hoc Committee has been researching alternatives: landscaping adjustments, building adjustments, more welcoming fencing options, installing portable toilets, learning how we can interact positively with those experiencing housing and food insecurity, and an initiative called Safe Parking that is being piloted in Tacoma and Pierce County. (Thanks to Debbie Cafazzo and Cat Bilnoski for bringing this to our attention.) The Committee – joined by Jim Bilnoski, Dave Hackett, Bob Hayes, Patty McPhee, and Sheila Whybrow – also met twice at the building – masked and distanced – to do a rough cleanup of the landscaping and pick up trash and human waste. (An enormous thank you to Libby Ball for continuing to remove litter and waste when she is at the building.)

Safe Parking has emerged as a very exciting and plausible option for TUUC. Safe Parking locations on the West Coast have been active since 2004, possibly earlier. At the most basic, Safe Parking provides safe, legal parking for people living in their cars, along with a portable toilet, handwashing station, and trash receptacles. Each site determines how many guests (cars) they can accommodate and the demographics of those guests (singles, families, etc.). Cindy Hackett and David Pettit visited two Safe Parking churches: Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland, WA, operating since 2011, and Edmonds UU Church in Edmonds, WA, operating since 2015. They operate differently but with similar basic amenities and procedures. Both coordinators note that misbehavior on church grounds has decreased significantly since Safe Parking began, a finding that is consistently documented at Safe Parking sites.

What the Committee finds very exciting is that Tacoma/Pierce County has recently initiated a Safe Parking Pilot Program with organizational support from the Metropolitan Development Council and grant support from the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation. This means that those faith communities initiating Safe Parking programs will potentially receive fiscal support and will receive organizational support.

Colin DeForrest, Janet Runbeck, and Theresa Power-Druitis of the Tacoma/Pierce County Safe Parking Network recently participated in an educational question and answer session with the Board of Trustees, a member of the Social Justice Committee, and the Ad Hoc Committee. Based on this session, the Board voted to begin educating the Congregation – you – about Safe Parking.

Watch the TUUC ENews for information about small group Zoom meetings coming in January to learn more and have the opportunity to ask questions. Meanwhile, begin your education about the Tacoma/Pierce Country Safe Parking Network. Here you will find information about the pilot program, articles about Safe Parking and an overview of local homelessness.