South Sound church seeks removal of homeless encampment before Tacoma Greek Festival

TACOMA, Wash. — The hard work has already begun at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church on Tacoma’s Hilltop.

The South Sound church wants the city of Tacoma to remove a homeless encampment that parishioners say is dangerous.

The encampment popped up across the street, days before their annual Greek festival which is less than a week away.

“We have thousands of people that are gonna descend upon our church,” said Tony Pangiotu, a parishioner. “And it’s a wonderful community event.”

But there is also a bit of dread. The encampment is causing a sense of ‘deja vu’ for Pangiotu and other parishioners.

“It’s not even so much the tents,” he said. “But our church secretary, for example, lives a block away. And yesterday she was accosted again by one of the people that live in the encampment. And, you know it’s dangerous.”

He says their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

“We dialed 311,” Pangiotu said. “We filed a complaint. I sent an email to the Mayor. I sent an email to our County Executive Bruce Dannemeyer.”

Just a year ago, three homeless encampments formed a kind of semi-circle around Saint Nicholas. Days before last year’s Greek festival, the city of Tacoma removed the encampments.

Since then, a new law has made these encampments illegal within a 10-block radius of a shelter. And there is a shelter nearby.

“Oh, yeah, I’m having a difficult time,” said Rachel Rappe-Williams, of trying to find housing.

KIRO 7 met her in one of the tents. Still, she says she is willing to move along.

“I didn’t get my social security check yesterday, I mean, Friday,” Rappe-Williams said. “So, I’m just hoping it’s there Monday. They signed for it. So, I just have to pick it up tomorrow. And then I’ll be out of here.”

Tony says they worked with property owners to put in boulders, with the city’s blessing, to keep the tents out.

KIRO 7 reached out to the city of Tacoma and received this reply from Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards’ office:

“This location has been on our encampment removal schedule, and we anticipate it will be addressed this week. As of (Monday) morning, there was one tent and, if necessary, the HEAL team will follow normal posting and removal practices within the restricted area.”