Tent City IV could land on the city’s doorstep

February 20, 2014

By Peter Clark

New: Feb. 20, 12:38 p.m.

Tempers flared Feb. 11 at Faith United Methodist Church’s community meeting to discuss hosting Tent City IV.

With concerns for children, jobs and safety, almost 200 residents crowded into the church on Issaquah-Pine Lake Road in unincorporated King County, just across from the Sammamish City Limits. The meeting, according to the Rev. John Brewer, was to share information about the possibility of housing the traveling homeless shelter on church grounds.

“We were approached two and a half weeks ago with a serious request,” Brewer said. “While we had only briefly considered hosting in the summer time, this request came urgently.”

After staying at Sammamish’s Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church, Tent City looked to move to another spot within the city, but that fell through. Then, the Sammamish City Council passed a moratorium on hosting the camp within its borders. Tent City struck a quick deal with the state to set up in Lake Sammamish State Park, and through further negotiations, plan to remain until March 1.

Church Board of Trustees Chairman Bill Mincey said the church received the request Jan. 21. He said the trustees voted to recommend the church move forward to consider securing a permit and that included holding the community meeting.

A split crowd greeted a panel of Tent City 4 residents and former hosts. Many clapped for the church’s interest in hosting the camp. However, a vocal contingent also attended and insisted on asking about the safety of the church’s preschool should the camp come to Faith United.

The first question asked of the panel whether any host had issues with welcoming Tent City IV and whether any had a preschool.

“We have two preschools,” Kathi Rowely, pastoral assistant at Mary, Queen of Peace, said of the Sammamish church. She said it also has more than 300 children involved in faith-formation programs and all remained safe during the camp’s stay. “To my knowledge, no, there were not any issues with Tent City IV. There was tremendous outreach from the community with volunteering and bringing things out to the encampment.”

Rowley said a survey of the community found 92 percent of them would like to host in the future.

During its time in Sammamish, there were eight arrests made at Tent City IV, and police responded to 30 calls according to Sammamish Police Chief Nate Elledge. Elledge noted that not every call means there was a problem and most calls were for internal issues. None of the incidents involved Tent City residents coming into conflict with residents of Sammamish.

The most serious incidents occurred with two people being arrested for possession of methamphetamines.

The speakers could only answer one question before loud protests began interrupting the proceedings.

Many reacted with anger at the manner in which they could ask questions. Because of the large number of people, Brewer invited attendees to write questions down on cards, pass them along to volunteers and then wait for the panel to respond.

Residents of Tent City IV repeatedly pointed out the encampment’s safety record.

“No one has ever been hurt in the 24 years of SHARE’s existence,” camp resident Jeff Toll said, referring to the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort, the umbrella network under which Tent City IV falls. “In all the years, no child has ever been harmed in our camp. We have a strict code of conduct.”

Every camp resident took their turn to explain the thorough process of gaining residency in the camp, which involves warrant checks and complete sobriety.

“We have a process and the process works,” camp resident Cynthia Moss said.

Still, the assurances could not calm some parents in the crowd.

Lisa Deily, a concerned parent of a preschool child, interjected to say a group had collected almost 100 signatures to ask the church not to host the camp at this time.

“We are not against you, but it is our first and foremost commitment to protect our children,” Deily said. “Preschool is a time for our children to learn the beauty of God’s world around them, and not to discover the harsh realities of life. That will come soon enough.”

She joined a sector of the crowd in asking the camp to request a spot in summer, when children do not attend preschool.

In the end, the crowd seemed split on whether to welcome Tent City 4, while Brewer continued to plead for an open mind and to reflect the church’s history of stewardship.

“This congregation has a history of helping low-income and homeless,” Brewer said. “Many of you in your own religious institutions probably participate in the same way. We all know that homelessness is a serious public problem. We as a church want to be a part of the solution and we know you do, too, from what you’ve shared with us.”

The church membership is scheduled to meet to discuss the issue Feb. 25.


Sammamish police response

Faith United Methodist Church lies in unincorporated King County, just outside the Sammamish City Limits. The King County Sheriff’s Office generally lacks the resources to patrol the area regularly.

Sammamish Police are not likely to pick up the slack, said Police Chief Nate Elledge in an email.

When in Sammamish, officers patrolled the camp regularly, but they won’t do that outside the city. However, they will provide emergency help

“If an incident occurs in Tent City that requires an urgent police response, we will respond and assist the King County Sheriff’s Office like we would on any other incident just outside our city border. Our officers will continue to drive through the Sammamish neighborhoods located near Tent City as part of our regular patrol duties.”

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