Church gets threats for offering free breakfasts across from Ballard Commons

Death threats and hate mail. That is what the pastor of a church near the Ballard Commons says they have received over the encampment that was cleared out there Tuesday.

A lot of people are blaming this church for the encampment that was once there because the church offers free breakfasts to all comers.

And critics say that is why so many people decided to camp here across the street, creating a dangerous situation for the neighborhood.

It has stood in the shadow of what we now know as the Ballard Commons for nearly a century. For decades, a core mission of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church has been to serve a free breakfast each weekday.

“There’s been a warm meal and a hot cup of coffee for anyone,” said Rev. Britt Olson, St. Luke’s vicar. “Sometimes it’s our neighbors. Sometimes it’s people who are unsheltered. For years, it’s been fishermen who were off of the boats.”

But critics blame that charity for the explosive growth of the homeless encampment here including the fires, the thefts and the general fear that came with it.

“The crisis of homelessness in our community has changed over time,” said Rev. Olson. “And it’s not been caused by us. But we hope to be part of working toward a solution that provides shelter and sustenance and safety for all the members of our community.”

Many in this community are cheering the clearing out of this encampment on this overcast Tuesday. Late in the day, city officials declared 68 people here accepted shelter, many of them with acute health issues. But others said no.

And many residents say this is just a symptom of a much more stubborn problem.

“It’s more than housing, for sure,” said Scott White. “I live here in the building. I used to manage this Bartells, suffered many assaults.”

Still, Rev. Olson says what happened here on this day is a sign of progress toward a more humane treatment of the unhoused.

“Punishing people by not feeding them, by not sheltering them, by not caring for them just doesn’t fit with our values,” she said.

Moreover, she says soon they will announce plans to build 80 units of new, affordable housing on property the church owns near the area.

Meanwhile, other residents say they are already thinking ahead to the activities they can once again enjoy in this park.