Tent City settles in
November 7, 2013
By Ari Cetron
New: Nov. 6, 1:16 p.m.
Standing in the midst of neat rows of tents behind Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church Oct. 31, Red Manchester looked around and smiled.
“This is a god-send,” she said. “It really is.”
Manchester is one of about 60 homeless people living in Tent City IV, a traveling encampment of homeless people. The camp set up Oct. 19 behind the Sammamish church. Of the camp’s 60 current residents, 90 percent are men, said Christine (last name withheld), a member of the camp’s executive committee.
The residents range in age from their early 20s to 60s, and represent a mix of different races and religions.
The reaction in Sammamish has been mixed. Many people have come forward with donations and offers of help. Others have been opposed to the camp, some because of its proximity to a daycare facility and school, others because of its proximity to homes, and still others with less specific reasons.
Gregor (last name withheld), who has lived at the camp for about five months, said that reaction is pretty typical.
“It happens historically,” he said. “They don’t know.”
One of the bigger issues, Gregor said, is that people don’t know what to expect. They hear the word “homeless” and expect someone dirty, someone criminal.
“What do they think? There’s going to be 10 guys passing around a bottle of whiskey and swapping old stories?” Gregor said.
Christine said while she finds it hurtful that people are afraid to have their children near the camp, she can understand the apprehension.
“I have kids,” she said. “I had the same response.”
She said she grew up in Sequim and was raised to, basically, look down on homeless people. But then her father died, and she was left with little more than his truck.
Slowly, her material possessions withered away. Eventually the truck was impounded and she was left with few other places to go.
“The first two months I was here it was, ‘What did I do wrong?’” Christine said.
But she said she became accustomed to the changes and developed a more pragmatic philosophy. “I could be worse,” she said. “These (things) are all replaceable.”
She’s been involved with Tent City IV off and on for a little more than two years, and said now she stays because she wants to help the camp since it has meant so much to her.
“I’m going back more because of what they’ve done for me,” she said.
The great outdoors
Generally, the residents of Tent City IV say they prefer the camp to other options, including indoor shelters.
For one thing, Tent City gives them a safe place to leave their things during the day. At an indoor shelter, people can stay overnight, but are usually kicked out during the day.
Christine noted that most places force people out at 5:30 a.m.
“And 5:30 is the coldest time,” she said.
Particularly for a woman, being alone in the cold and dark of winter is hard.
“If you’re a young woman, and you’re sweet, you’re not going to be when you’re done,” she said.
Indoor shelters also offer no privacy, and often don’t have the food donations that come to Tent City, Christine said.
Beyond those practical concerns, Tent City residents say they feel like they live in a community, an extended family.
“I have a new family, and I’m protected here. I feel safe,” Manchester said. While she has children and grandchildren, she said Tent City has given her another group that cares for her.
“We’re like all brothers and sisters here,” she said.
But they are temporary brothers and sisters.
Christine said that while one resident had been there since the start, most only stay for a few months or maybe a year before they can move into more permanent housing.
The backlog for government-assisted housing is long, said Gregor, and people have to go somewhere in the meantime.
Resident Eric Brauch agreed.
Brauch had been in the camp for 14 days, but was moving into an apartment later that day.
“Most of us do not see this as a way of life,” he said.
How’s it work?
Tent City IV is a self-contained, self-governed entity. Residents elect people to its seven-member executive committee. That group then takes care of the nuts and bolts of running the community. They fill out the forms for needed permits when they move to a new community, and run the various aspects of the camp.
Each member of the camp undergoes a background check and must follow a code of conduct. The camp does not permit convicted sex offenders or people with outstanding warrants to join.
The code forbids drinking alcohol or doing drugs in the camp. Members are also prohibited from drinking in the host city.
The camp typically stays in one place for 90 days – there is a county ordinance that allows them to stay for up to 92 days.
The group has its own security, which patrols in a two-block radius to make sure no residents are loitering in nearby neighborhoods.
The camp has a shower facility and a heated community area with electricity, which residents use to charge their phones and laptops or watch TV.
A long commute
Tent City IV residents with jobs are running into much the same problem that Sammamish’s permanent residents have – infrequent bus service.
Residents quickly learned the sparse bus schedule means getting up and heading to the stop early, or having to wait a couple hours for the next bus, said Red Manchester, a Tent City resident.
Residents haven’t been excited about the situation, she said, but they’ve made do.
“They just make the best of it,” she said. “When you’re served lemons, you make lemonade.”
A police officer responded to the area of Tent City IV at 10:30 p.m. Oct. 26. A man and a woman were having an argument in the road and both smelled of alcohol, according to police reports. Upon questioning, the man said he was a documentary filmmaker who had infiltrated Tent City for a movie he was working on about drug and alcohol abuse in homeless camps.
The couple had been arguing about relationship problems for about 15 minutes, disturbing the other Tent City residents, which prompted the call for police. The man said the couple wasn’t actually homeless and they lived in Lynwood. The pair was expelled from Tent City. They left on foot with some of their belongings; staff from Tent City put the rest into storage for them.
Tent City residents said they did not recall seeing the couple carrying any camera equipment.
Reach reporter Ari Cetron at 392-6434, ext. 233, or firstname.lastname@example.org. To comment on this story, visit www.SammamishReview.com.