By Scott D. Johnston
The Rev. Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church who gained international fame with his sermon at the royal wedding last month, joined about 100 participants in a tour of downtown Aberdeen and vigil at City Hall Saturday afternoon that sought to highlight homelessness in the city and push for 2,000 new affordable housing units. The event was organized by “Harbor Rising,” a new group that includes representatives from Chaplains on the Harbor, Democracy Rising, Blind Justice and Harbor Roots, all of which have advocated for the homeless.
“A movement starts small and keeps on growing,” Bishop Curry told the crowd outside City Hall. He cited the biblical parable of the tiny mustard seed that eventually grows into a tree, and proclaimed, “This is a mustard seed movement!”
He encouraged people to expand the push for local housing solutions and urged them to embrace the notion that, “We are a family that doesn’t let anybody go without a home.”
According to Rev. Sarah Monroe from Chaplains on the Harbor, Curry had been touring the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia and became interested in joining the Aberdeen event. His visit to the Northwest was scheduled before his royal wedding sermon was broadcast and replayed around the world. Bishop Greg Rickel of Olympia accompanied Curry Saturday.
The event began in the parking lot next to Jay’s Farm Stand at Heron and G Streets. Following some Native American songs and prayers and a few preliminary remarks, the group walked behind a Harbor Rising banner down to the railroad tracks near an area with the Harbor’s largest homeless encampment.
Monroe said 22 of the county’s homeless have died “on the street” over the past two years.
“We’re here to remember the people we have lost and to demand that the city and county center and prioritize affordable housing,” Monroe stated.
Organizers claim that research and surveys show approximately 1,000 people are homeless in Aberdeen, and that for the nearly 3,500 extremely low-income and very low-income households in the county, only about 1,200 affordable units are available. They added that 862 units stand vacant in Aberdeen, most of them currently unfit for human habitation.
To empower its vision that 2,000 units be built or restored in Aberdeen to fill the gap in affordable housing availability, Harbor Rising “imagines responsible agencies partnering with local organizations to provide housing including pathways to home-ownership and employment in housing construction and restoration,” according to their press release.
Along the way from the homeless encampment to City Hall, the group stopped by some sites they said might represent possible housing locations and a potential low-income detox center. At City Hall, the group set up a vigil for those lost, and Curry, Monroe and others spoke.
Curry said he came to Aberdeen to support the event because, “What I hope for is an awakening of awareness of the need to care for the homeless in ways that are just and loving.”
The vigil continued through the night, as eight people slept until Sunday morning in a small tent city they set up in front of City Hall.
This story was first published in the Aberdeen Daily World.