TUKWILA, Wash. — It’s been a year since a Tukwila church opened its doors to hundreds of asylum seekers. A humanitarian crisis showed up at Riverton Park United Methodist Church.
“It came to our doorstep. We had moved all of our homeless folks into tiny homes, we were so excited we were out of the tent business until folks started arriving in Seattle. People started calling us, 'Can you help these folks sleeping on the street?' We got more and more and found out they were asylum seekers,” said Bolerjack.
Pastor Bolerjack has kept the doors open ever since. The number of asylum seekers has now climbed to 400, most fleeing violent conflict from Venezuela, Angola and Congo.
“Folks have come here in very difficult situations, and we need to see the humanity in that,” Bolerjack said.
The church has been working to give them a stable place and teach them how to navigate their new community.
“We're just doing the best we can and putting a patchwork quilt together here as we work and it’s not enough. These folks deserve more,” Bolerjack said.
In October, Tukwila declared a state of emergency and last week, King County Council approved $3 million to pay for 100 hotel rooms. As of Wednesday evening, King County officials said 85 people have been moved to a total of 38 rooms, which have been prioritized for families, young children, and those who are pregnant.
The initial moves started the weekend of Thanksgiving and will continue this week.
“It's a great thing because now they get to be inside in hotels and not outside in the cold in the rain,” Bolerjack said.
While there, some families have experienced milestones.
“Moises got here when he was just barely 1 year old and learned to walk here on this property,” Bolerjack said.
While other children work through traumas.
“Another one got here after being traumatized along the way and didn't speak for six months until he got here and then he started talking again,” Bolerjack said.
Over the year, Bolerjack has learned about the obstacles, barriers and trauma these families have endured.
“Once we looked at the resiliency of these people, and what they're doing and how they're making it work, you can't help but want to take them in and want to help because they're just such assets to our community,” Bolerjack said.
While Tukwila is facing a crisis, Bolerjack wants people to remember it’s happening across our country.
“The crisis is much bigger than what's happening right now. We all need to address this," Bolerjack said. "I don't know what the answer is, except to see each other as human beings, and in that we all deserve respect and safety and housing and shelter,” Bolerjack said.
The church can use blankets, hand warmers, and monetary donations to help with day-to-day costs, which have skyrocketed.