In what may be a first for a public university, this winter the University of Washington is hosting a tent city on campus—and an Evans School alumna and an Evans School professor are key participants in the project.

This Winter Quarter Tent City 3 (TC3) calls the University of Washington’s Seattle campus home. The tent city is located in west campus, near Portage Bay. This will be the first time the UW has hosted an official tent city. It wouldn’t have happened without strong student efforts and some lessons from an Evans School education.

Sally Clark (MPA ‘04), Director of UW’s Office of Regional and Community Relations, was a key player in making this partnership happen. Clark worked with campus and community partners to determine how the University could effectively host and learn from the experience. The work to approve the tent city on campus was like wrangling constituents to pass legislation in city hall—and Clark should know, as she was a Seattle City Councilmember before moving to the University.

“UW is a city in itself,” Clark said. “The constituencies are different, but the structure is very similar. We wanted to take an action that’s consistent with our mission, but we had to set up ways for people to engage, to weigh in.”

The long process of bringing a tent city to campus started when student representatives of the Tent City Collective started working on a proposal to host TC3. In response, the University formed a working group, facilitated by Clark. The working group met a half a dozen times followed by public meetings, email comments, phone calls, and conversations with Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University, both of which have hosted TC3 in the past. Clark approached the issue from a very Evans School perspective. What is the project definition, who are the constituents, how will this affect day-to-day operations, and does this align with our mission?

TC3 itself was a very important partner in this process. The collective has a clear and established self-governance, and a history of successful camps. That made a difference. 

“If it wasn’t TC3 I don’t know if the process would have even started,” Clark said. “They have strict codes of conduct including sex offender screening of any level. They typically have families with children living in this community.”

The move to host TC3 is not only in line with the mission of the University of Washington to make a positive impact on the world, but there are also opportunities for research and educational moments. Now that the city has arrived, several courses across campus will be working with the residents of TC3 during their three-month stay on campus.

Evans School Assistant Professor Rachel Fyall, an expert on homelessness who has been at the Evans School since 2014, is currently teaching a Housing Policy class, and she has already taken the first steps towards an academic interaction.

“We are applying to get some time with TC3,” Fyall said. “We are early in the process, but it would be a learning opportunity for the students that I don’t want to miss.” 

Organizations and members of the media have been seeking out Fyall as an expert on housing and homelessness issues in the past few months. KNKX, formerly known as KPLU, featured Fyall in a recent story about strategies to combat homelessness. Fyall was also part of a panel discussion, hosted by Solid Ground, about Seattle’s “rapid rehousing” approach that the city is increasingly pursuing. The panel discussed the root causes of homelessness, the actions the city has been taking to alleviate the problem, and larger themes of poverty, income inequality, and activism.

Her course this winter focuses on innovative approaches to housing.

“Rapid rehousing is an emerging trend,” Fyall said. “It focuses on partnering with the private market to get individuals and families back into apartments. It is challenging in a market like Seattle, so we’ll need to watch closely to see if it is an appropriate strategy for our region.”

Most research on rapid rehousing is family based. Fyall, in true Evans School fashion, is always looking at ways to innovate and expand research. Fyall is studying rapid rehousing for single adults and comparing national trends.

With a tent city on campus, Fyall sees this as an opportunity for her students to get real world, local experience, while tackling the nationwide issues of poverty in the classroom.

“We aren’t the first organization to host TC3,” Fyall said. “But the next 90 days while they are here should be informative.”