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Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness helps pass law to address faith community response to homeless

The Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness has produced two brochures to distribute to homeless people living in their vehicles, said Bill Kirlin-Hackett, a UCC pastor who is director of the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness,

Bill Kirlin-Hacket is the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness executive director.

They are explaining a recent change in the law.  Bill introduced ESHB1754 five times previously.

The “Ticketing” booklet is currently in distribution within Seattle as part of its work doing the Scofflaw Mitigation Project Team. It is aimed at vehicle residents becoming informed so they do not lose their vehicles by having them impounded.

A “Safe Lot” brochure is being distributed statewide through faith partners to invite faith communities to consider doing safe parking on faith properties, given the passage of ESHB 1754 this year.

The new law gives guidelines for hosting homeless people at congregations via safe parking, indoor shelter, outdoor shelter and small houses on site.

The brochure says more than 2,700 people in King County live in cars because they are homeless. It also says rising rents are forcing more people out of their homes and most who live in their cars are new to homelessness.  The car is their last asset, getting them to work and school. It says people living in their cars need personal safety, basic amenities—bathrooms, showers, waste disposal, laundry and places to prepare and store food—relief from parking enforcement and safe places to park.

The law sets a floor for the three statewide jurisdictions, county, city and code city, above which “they cannot interfere with the religious exercise of faith toward hosting the homeless people on property owned or controlled by the faith organization in safe parking, indoor overnight shelter, outdoor managed encampments, and tiny houses on site,” he said.

The new law, which went into effect June 11, brings to bear the 2000 state Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (RLUIPA), which followed and clarified religious property use on the heels of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. 

The RFRA centered protections for the exercise of faith. Some courts and authorities had said houses of worship could only be used for worship and other restrictions, Bill said.

In 2000, Congress passed the RLUIPA to address use of property owned or controlled by faith communities. It continues the basis of its guidelines protecting religious practice and does so in light of land and property use, he explained.

It protects land use as a religious exercise, saying: “No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution” without a compelling governmental interest.

Bill said that in Washington state, violations of RLUIPA were “from denial that any faith community can host those unsheltered on any portion of its property indoors or outside, or to ‘allowances’ of one faith community able to host for a term, such as one congregation every 18 months, while all others are enjoined, or to a hosting being declined when no sprinklers are installed indoors, he said.

“Basically, any faith community can host the homeless on their property without seeking jurisdictional permission,” he clarified, unless there is “a compelling governmental interest.”

The new law is a compromise that sets a consistent floor for permitting and ordinances to regulate faith communities hosting the homeless.” Bill said.
“It is conceded in most quarters that every faith community can choose to host the homeless on their property without seeking jurisdictional permission.”

The new law offers that by partnering with jurisdictions and others, services that many faith communities lack, are pathways toward moving from temporary hosting to permanently housing of unsheltered persons with other community partners. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between a congregation and a jurisdiction. may be uniquely crafted without the need for the public ordinance/permit process.

The ITFH set up some online Zoom meetings to inform people.

Another effort is the delivery of Seattle budgeted funds to the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle as host for the ITFH Scofflaw Mitigation outreach.

“These funds will allow us to do harm alleviation for repairs, tickets, tabs and other needs when we resume vehicle outreach,” he said.

The ITFH does education, advocacy and direct services to unsheltered homeless people.

For information, call 425-442-5418 or visit


Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News © Fall 2020


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