Olympia: Chaplains on the Harbor stands with homeless over evictions

By diocesan staff
Posted Mar 27, 2015

[Episcopal Diocese of Olympia] Chaplains on the Harbor, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, has for the past year and a half ministered on the streets of Aberdeen, Washington. The Rev. Sarah Monroe launched the ministry with a backpack of sandwiches, walking the streets, visiting homeless camps, and building relationships.

Over the past week, the largest of these semi-permanent camps along the Chehalis River running through town – in the ruins of old mills and pilings – has been issued eviction notices. People have been given until March 31 to clear out, with no options for where they can go next.

“In Aberdeen, if you are really down and out, if you have lost everything, if you get kicked out of your parents’ or your friend’s place, if you need to save money to pay for a hotel during the winter, this is the last place to go,” Monroe explains.

Every year or two, according to residents, the camps are evicted. One year, residents say that the city moved in and burned everything. In the months following, people always come back because, according to Monroe, it is the last place for Aberdeen’s poorest. Up to 70 people camp along this stretch of river. The steep rise in homelessness is a visible sign of increasing desperation, in a town with a 25% poverty rate and a county where 46% of the population access social services to survive.

Monroe, who has been accompanying campers through this time, says, “It is in times like these that the church is called to take a stand. Our brothers and sisters along the river have asked us to stand with them. We are only just beginning, listening to people on the ground, asking the community how we can support them.”

Monroe addressed the Aberdeen city council on March 25, asking that the city either “halt the eviction or at least give people more time. We’re all responsible for each other. We’re all responsible for the common good. And I know that most of us love this place and most of us want to see this town thrive.” Videos of all the speakers at the city council meeting are posted on the group’s Facebook page.

Monroe is also building a broad coalition of churches, social service providers, and people experiencing homelessness to demand that Aberdeen confront its growing poverty crisis.

As in many small towns and cities, efforts to redevelop and attract tourist dollars in declining economies has led to policies that marginalize and criminalize people in poverty or experiencing homelessness. This time, the city hopes that this is a permanent eviction. According to Monroe, there are hopes for a waterfront park instead. Monroe suggested that a better long-term solution would be to prioritize the common good and squarely address growing poverty.

One person said in a Bible study run by Monroe; “In this city, the poor are of no importance. We are just a nuisance in the way of redevelopment.”

Monroe was the recipient of a one-year fellowship from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society for social justice and advocacy work for The Episcopal Church. (The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is the legal and canonical name under which The Episcopal Church is incorporated, conducts business, and caries out mission.) Monroe’s ministry is featured in an ENS article here.

Chaplains on the Harbor website

Chaplains on the Harbor Facebook page

Sarah Monroe’s blog

The Diocese of Olympia (Episcopal Church in Western Washington) includes about 31,000 people in more than 100 churches.


Comments (2)

  1. Fr. John A. Boylan, OEF says:

    I am an Ecumenical Catholic priest and Franciscan. I also serve at Interfaith Works of Thurston County. As a result of the effort in time, talent, and energy of the whole community, Thurston County is increasingly being recognized as a national model for how to humanely and compassionately be present and empowering to those living without permanent housing. I invite and encourage the faith communities of Aberdeen and Grays Harbor to join in this effort. It is, of course, much larger than Aberdeen. We could partner with you somehow, someway.

  2. Rich Basta says:

    This is a tough one. The city is trying to bring sustainable jobs to the city to replace the logging industry jobs lost. They have a legal right to evict people living on private land that are creating a health hazard, damaging the ecosystem, and in some cases, producing criminal behaviour. That doesn’t serve the common good either. On the other hand, compassion is called for,as Jesus commands us to. Perhaps the answer lies in a partnership between ecumenical leaders and the city to find a clean, short term housing solution while the city redevelops the land, with an iron-clad promise that a portion of tax monies from tourism will be used to fund an endowment of some sorts for transitional housing for the homeless.

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