LYNNWOOD — The tents on the grounds of Good Shepherd Baptist Church were no match for the rain and heavy snow that came last winter — collapsing under the weight.
To keep the homes upright and residents sheltered, site manager Tony Thompson spent all Christmas night removing snow from the tents.
“I’m surprised it didn’t all come down,” said Thompson, 58, of Lynnwood.
Shepherd’s Village provides a home for Edmonds Community College students experiencing homelessness. After the rough winter, the Jean Kim Foundation, which sponsors the village, wanted to offer more to residents — a solid, weatherproof roof and a door. Rev. Kim Jean is pushing for changes to Lynnwood city codes to allow the group to use tiny homes.
As homelessness increases, encampments, both authorized and unauthorized, are spreading in the region. At least two cities in Snohomish County are establishing new rules to regulate them.
In Lynnwood, the city is seeing more people experiencing homelessness, according to documents. The city wants to give organizations greater flexibility in hosting tent villages or cold-weather shelters.
At the same time, new rules approved by the Lake Stevens City Council cap the number of authorized encampments in the city at one and limit its duration to 90 days.
Under Washington state law, faith-based organizations are allowed to host temporary encampments. And while local jurisdictions cannot impede on that right, they can pass rules “necessary to protect public health and safety.”
In 2008, the city of Lynnwood passed a tent city ordinance to allow faith organizations to host temporary encampments on their properties. But up until last year, when Shepherd’s Village was established, no organizations had applied.
In the year and a half since the tent village opened at Lynnwood’s Good Shepherd, 18 college students experiencing homelessness have taken refuge there.
“Not having to worry about where I’m going to sleep relieves a lot of stress,” said Donna Conner, who moved in a little over a year ago.
Conner, 55, of Lynnwood, has one quarter left at the community college before she completes her associate’s degree in social and human services.
To better prepare for next winter, the city is considering an ordinance that allows the tent village to replace the tents with tiny homes.
Members of the Jean Kim Foundation board say temporary tiny homes would offer more privacy and weather protection. Councilwomen Shirley Sutton and Chris Frizzell both serve on the nonprofit’s board.
Under the current proposal the homes would be limited to a living area of 100 square feet each.
And along with being more comfortable, the tiny home would be wired for electricity.
“Being in a tent still feels like you’re not progressing,” said Jason Dunbar, services coordinator for the foundation. “We’re trying to make whole people, not just house people.”
Also in the ordinance, the city is considering adopting flexible standards for cold-weather emergency shelters that would make it easier for churches to host them, even if the building does not fully comply with code.
State building and fire protection regulations make it difficult for faith organizations to host the shelters, according to Paul Krauss, Lynnwood’s community development director.
Once people are sleeping in a building, requirements change and it can be expensive to bring it up to code. This has prevented Lynnwood churches in the past from participating, Krauss said
The goal of the proposed ordinance is to provide exceptions for temporary shelters on the basis that it is safer to have people sleeping indoors — in buildings that are reasonably safe but don’t meet all codes — than having them sleep outside, he said.
“We need more housing for people in difficult straits,” Krauss said. “The problem is so large and it seems to be growing.”
Before the council votes, a public hearing will be held, though the date has not been set.
Lynnwood is not the only local city considering changes around this issue.
Taking a preemptive step, the Lake Stevens City Council on July 10 adopted new rules regarding tent encampments.
“There is no pending application and no outreach from any local churches wanting to host an encampment,” Community Development Director Russ Wright said.
Pointing to state law, Wright said that “a lot of cities around Puget Sound have or will be adopting these types of ordinances.”
After each 90-day encampment, another would not be permitted in Lake Stevens for 275 days — which sets the limit to one per year. Neighborhood meetings must be held before an application is approved.
To host an encampment, an organization would have to apply for a temporary use permit and submit a plan with all structures, parking, trash cans and toilets. A code of conduct is required for residents.
The rules mandate that an on-site security and management tent be staffed around-the-clock. The hosting organization must “take all reasonable and legal steps to obtain warrant and sex offender checks.” No more than 50 people would be allowed to stay at a time, and a list of their names must be kept. Minors aren’t allowed without guardians.
The Lake Stevens City Council plans to revisit the regulations this fall.
Everett also has passed an ordinance setting city standards for homeless encampments. But no faith organization has applied to become a host. City officials said their focus has been on short-term programs that address specific needs, such as cold weather shelters and safe parking for people living in their vehicles.
For residents of Shepherd’s Village in Lynnwood, the tent community has played a crucial role in their recovery and education.
“I don’t have to work as hard to keep my school supplies dry,” one said.
Lynnwood recognizes that as the homeless population grows, “temporary encampments or shelters are not a long-term solution,” but they “can provide vitally needed shelter,” according to council documents.
However, Krauss said, Lynnwood wants to be “judicious where homeless housing goes.”
“We all are watching what Seattle is doing and there’s a desire not to replicate what they are doing,” Krauss said.
Herald Writer Kari Bray contributed to this story.
Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @lizzgior.