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Only one church answers Tacoma's call for help with homeless crisis

The official call for help began three months ago, but so far only one church in Tacoma, Bethlehem Baptist Church, has joined city leaders to address the ongoing homeless crisis. (Photo: KOMO News)

TACOMA, Wash. - The official call for help began three months ago, but so far only one church has joined city leaders to address the ongoing homeless crisis.

“If we have people who are in the cold, bring them in. Fortunately we have a physical space that gives us capacity to do it and we have people who have a heart to do it,” said Dr. Eric Jackson, pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Tacoma.

The church on E. Portland Ave. has hosted temporary shelters before, so when Tacoma city councilmembers reached out to the faith community for help, Jackson embraced the idea.

He plans to house up to 15 families in the church gymnasium, which equals approximately 75 people.

Jackson said some parishioners raised safety concerns - given the church already has a daycare and youth programs – but said those issues have been addressed and his congregation is fully on board.

What Jackson said he still struggles to understand is why no other Tacoma churches are answering that same call from the city for help.

“Fear can be a major driver to doing or not doing a certain thing, even when it's a good thing,” Jackson said. “So I think that's one thing. I think another thing is some churches have other missions and some churches don't have capacity."

The pastor said he is partnering with groups like the Salvation Army and hopes to have a homeless shelter up and running in January.

In October, the Tacoma City Council loosened ordinances to encourage religious organizations and nonprofits to consider opening homeless shelters. For starters, the city streamlined the permitting process so applications could be fast-tracked.

City staff have also held several meetings with faith groups to explain the new process and why they need the help. The ultimate goal is to increase the number of available shelter beds.

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