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The Fight for Sanctuary

 

Dear friends and supporters,

We are writing with an update from the front lines of struggle. As many of you know, in obedience to the gospel command “love thy neighbor as thyself,” we have chosen to host a small number of our homeless neighbors at our church in Westport.

Initially we were hosting our sisters and brothers in individual tents in the church yard, while we labored to set up basic infrastructure– fencing, privacy screening, a portable toilet, pallets– and comply with the city’s new restrictive ordinance on church-hosted encampments. During this time a neighbor, angry about our decision, assaulted a member of the camp on our property and made multiple other serious threats against our camp residents. Shortly after these incidents the city denied our first application to host the encampment. This denial was announced at the end of a city council meeting where explicit threats of vigilante violence against our camp, our staff, and our church building were made on public record– in front of the mayor, all the council members, the city attorney, and the police chief– without any consequences. In fact, most of the threats were met with cheers. When we called the Westport PD asking for no-trespass orders against individuals who had made these threats, our request was denied. We were told the threats (one of which was an offer of financial compensation to anyone willing to drive us out of town) were “not specific enough.” Under these dangerous circumstances, we have temporarily dismantled our outdoor camp and moved everyone inside the church building for safety reasons.

As the mayor stated that we were welcome to submit a second application, we did so. It was again denied, in part because the city claimed that we had not complied with fully dismantling the camp because we opened up our church building. We are now formally appealing the decision, which will no doubt be a lengthy process. We are profoundly blessed and grateful for the support of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia which, under the leadership of The Rt. Rev. Gregory Rickel, has been helping us navigate the legal terrain of this struggle. We have connected with a strong team of lawyers, including legal experts on the cutting edge of homeless people’s civil rights.

We are grateful for the love and steadfast support of our congregation and community volunteers who have continued to show up, keep the church open overnight, provide meals, and keep watch with our guests. At times they have done this with vigilantes screaming at them, knowing full well the risks they are taking to simply love and care for their neighbors. Their gentle and persistent witness in the face of cruelty is truly the work of God. Most of all we are grateful for the courage of our camp members themselves, who have had little choice but to be brave every single day, and who have met that task with dignity. It is an honor to struggle alongside them. We believe that, together, we will win.

We have a clear understanding of the role that churches must play in offering sanctuary to the most vulnerable people in any society, and we are dedicated to fulfilling that role no matter the cost. We will resist any and all attempts to violate or undermine our sanctuary space. We are aware that groups all over this country are, right now, raising their call for sanctuary from violence and repression and we join them. Our struggle in defense of a dozen homeless people in this small Washington town is connected to every single sanctuary movement being waged in defense of immigrants, refugees, women, LGBTQ people, and people facing racial and religious persecution in these bleak times. Our little sanctuary also belongs to you. Call on us if you need us.

We are in desperate need of financial support as we continue this struggle along with our ongoing projects of survival and dignity. Donate now!

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