Tent City: Reflection of Common Humanity or Unwelcome Squatters?

The Mercer Island Reporter reports, as reporting is its mission and namesake, that Tent City IV is coming to Mercer Island Methodist in August. Tent City is a semi-permanent, organized camp of homeless people that moves every few months to a new location. The idea is to provide services and housing for those who are trying to get on their feet. Tent City is always invited by its host, usually a church, but oftentimes the neighbors of the host organization are less welcoming. Here’s a photo of Tent City III at St. Mark’s in Seattle:

Photo credit: Bjornb on Flickr.

Some readers may now be thinking, “I like the idea of helping other people, but how close will Tent City be to me?” it’s about as far away from most of Mercer Island as you can get and still be on Mercer Island:

The United Methodist Church will host Tent City on Mercer Island. Just like those Methodists: always helping others!

NPR ran a story on Tent City, weighing the pros and cons. The story’s worth listening to, but here’s my summary:

  • Pro: Tent city provides a path from homelessness to self-sufficiency.
  • Con: It’s a band-aid that doesn’t solve any long-term problems.

Because life is rich and complicated, the answer must be a little of both: the Tent City concept is darkly wise and rudely great. I tend to believe that even in its imperfections, Tent City is one of the better attempts to solve a difficult problem. Other viewpoints, as always, are welcome here. Feel free to use the handy “Leave a Comment” feature to express yours.


27 responses to “Tent City: Reflection of Common Humanity or Unwelcome Squatters?

  1. That’s where I catch the bus!

  2. Yes, it is where you catch the bus, Daniel. What impact are you thinking this might have on you?

    They’ll be across the street, not in the Park n Ride. There will be some tent city residents who will be catching the bus with you, because commonly 40%-60% of these folks are employed or in job training. They’ll come and go on different schedules. Tent City needs to be close to public transportation. Go to http://www.miumc.org for more information.

  3. It’s easy for those of us who don’t live near there to have opinions, but what do the neighbors think?

  4. 40%-60% of these folks are employed or in job training? I would like to know where you get these figures, because I know for a fact, SHARE, the organization running Tent City4 DOES NOT keep record of those that they serve. They throw out pie in the sky numbers that are in no way a true and accurate reflection of the the actual numbers of those employed.
    Why not ask SHARE to provide records/date on those actually working that are currently in TC4? You won’t get them because they don’t exist.
    In addition, 20% of the population currently in TC4 has been living there for YEARS. TC4 residents Bruce Thomas and Leo Rhodes have been there since it began in 2004 and prior to that had been living in Tent City 3 in Seattle for years.

  5. InCaseYouDidn'tKnow

    I went to a religious service in a facility that was hosting Tent City at the time. It was impressive. The clergy and laypeople spoke very highly of the experience. There were no interruptions, bad behavior, smell, noise or anything. It was delightful to see humans offering helping hands to other humans.

  6. Tent City is coming to a church near you.
    Tent City is an “In Your Face” polical stunt to make well-housed people feel guilty.
    Using a loophole in the WA state constitution that gives churches the right to practice their religion and care for the needy, Tent City forced their way onto MI, at the expense of the neighborhood, our children, public services, and the faith community by those with no investment here, and nothing to lose.
    On June 16, ’08 The Mercer Island City Council passed a Temporary Use Permit that allows Tent City to move here in August ’08 for 3 months, then return to MI for 3 months every year into the future. They didn’t tell you that did they?
    There is a ton of info they didn’t tell us. They kept this a “don’t tell anyone” secret and said it was a “unanimous” decision by the MI Clergy Association, but didn’t bother to mention not all of the members were present at the vote. What about the neighbors of the church who will be forced to go into lockdown to protect their children for 3 months? What about the tax paying, hard working residents who have everything to lose over this.
    Tent City offers NO drug and alcohol counseling, job training or mental health services.
    Tent City has NOT been successful at transitioning people to permanent housing.
    Tent City does NOT have Local, State or Federal support.
    Based on police reports from previous host cities, Tent City will result in at least a 7% increase in crime to M.I.
    Tent City’s future potential locations include Mercer Island Presbyterian, St. Monica’s Catholic Church. and Holy
    Trinity Lutheran Church.
    Please see http://www.merceris.com for more info.

  7. What MI neighbors of Tent City coming to MI are saying in the MI Reporter Letters to the Editor:

  8. InCaseYouDidn'tKnow

    On this fourth of July, recognizing the great freedom we cherish here, my heart warms with the knowledge that my neighbors at the church are opening their facilities to those less fortunate.

    It’s a wonderful statement about Mercer Island, the generosity, the basic beauty of people helping other people.

    I brim with pride knowing that Tent City is coming to our beautiful community.

    Let it return and return!

  9. I live three houses down from the church with my two teenage sisters and my parents.
    As long as TC 4 is down the block, there is no way my parents will allow my sisters to walk the dog, or enjoy the outdoors in general.

    I expect litter to become more common in the neighborhood, but I hope I am wrong.

    TC4 seems like a scam and shares nothing in common with TC 1-3 besides the name.

  10. I forgot to add… I do expect secondhand smoke to become a real problem in the neighborhood. I have asthma, and am strongly affected by smoke.

    Basically, I’ll be forced to hold my breath whenevery I walk by the church… guess I won’t be walking by the church for a few months.

  11. Pingback: Tent City on Mercer Island: Not Suffering from Lack of Controversy « Surrounded By Water: A Mercer Island Blog

  12. Seperating Fact from Fiction? Ask SHARE what type of transitional services they provide? Ask SHARE how they come up with there 40-60% are employed statistics?
    Here is a fact-During back to back stays recently in Kirkland (Holy Spirit Lutheran/Kirkland Congregational) Tent City 4 generated 28 police reports for arrests ranging from assault to vandalism to motor vehicle prowiling and criminal trespass. THOSE ARE FACTS unreported by Tent City 4 and their supporters. The police reports are available for all to see.
    In addition during those bact to back stays totaling 6 months in Kirkland, the Kirkland Police Department made an astounding 255 calls/contacts on Tent City4/related to Tent City4! Now tell me if you think that sounds like a non event?

  13. The police reports mentioned above are simply a snap shot of what occurred in once city at two back to back sites.
    Then we have the Issaquah stay, which itself generated 20 police reports.
    This group genertes police activity whereever they go, but time and time again we are told this is a non event.
    I can tell you, for those of us having to live next door to Tent City4, this is anything but a non event.

  14. mercerislandblogger

    Is there a place we can go to find those police reports? How serious are they? It seems that tent city generates so much controversy that neighbors will definitely call the police more often, but a police report itself only tells us they were called. What were the infractions and were there any charges?

  15. Kirkland Police Case 2007-00036335 (On abve date and time a resident of TC4 was arrested for Vehicle Prowling x2 and Criminal Respass. He was booked a KPD and later transported to King County Jail. The suspect was moving north on Market and was PROWLING HIS WAY BACK TOWARD TENT CITY.
    Kirkland case #2007-00037028 A subject was arrested on his warrant out of KCSO for Suspended 3rd degree. His vehicle was observed in the 12300 block of 103rd Ave NE. While talking to staff at Tent City 4 they informed us that he was a tent city resident. The subject was arrested and taken into custody.

  16. Yes, you can go to the local police departments. (Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond, Bothell, Issaquah and King County) Also, many of them are available to view on the MI blog.
    Contrary to what people have been told, having Tent City 4 as a neighbor for 90 days is NOT a non event.
    Also, contrary to your comment about the calls coming from neighbors, all of the 28 Kirkland arrests came from outside contacts/disturbances/thefts/etc that had nothing to do with the neighbors calling.

    In fact of all of the 28 arrests, NOT ONE was generated by a call from a neighbor

  17. Burglar: A 35-year-old transient was arrested for burglary in the 10300 block of 163rd Avenue NE at 9:01 p.m. by police who were responding to several calls from residents in the area. The man, who recently had been evicted from Tent City, had several items missing in the burglary in his possession. He was located by a police dog as he cased other homes in the neighborhood

  18. I can also tell you that the concerns of the MI community over now being put on a PERMANENT ROTATION for TC4 are not unfounded.
    Once Tent City 4 leaves MI in November, they will be returning to St. John Vianney in Kirkland. (unincorporated KC). This will be the 3RD stay for TC4 at St. John’s where each time they are back from November-February.
    November 2004-February 2005
    November 2006- February 2007
    and the upcoming stay which will be
    November 2008- February 2009

    I just wonder at which point will the good parishoners of St. John’s get tired of seeing the familiar faces of Bruce Thomas (TC4 resident for 4+ yrs) and Leo Rhodes (TC4 resident for 4+ yrs) and begin questioning whether letting TC4 squat on their church property is the best way to help the homeless.
    After all, if it was really helping the homeless, wouldn’t the homeless Bruce Thomas and Leo Rhodes by now have found permanent shelter as well as employment?
    If not, perhaps those two men have some needs which are not being addressed by TC4 such as mental health issues/alcohol/drugs? Unfortunately, TC4 and SHARE do not provide supportive transitional services which would be able to address such needs.

  19. This is a big show for the pastor, this act will generate more public media to her church. Congrats! This has proven not to work, please dont distroy another community!!!!

  20. All of your concerns are well grounded in my opinion as a direct neighbor to the Woodinville encampment. We had late night disturbances that woke the entire family, observed questionable traffic stops away from the encampment that raised suspicion between residents and their off-site relations, missing mail and newspapers, smoke from cigarettes being consumed by bands of people congregating at our driveways that wafted into our our homes, litter including alcohol containers and cigarette buts, and complaints of people setting off perimeter alarms at all hours of the night. Unexplained were the reports of a child stalking incident that never occurred in this neighborhood before and a break in at the coffee stand at the end of the street. The aid cars and police were evident responding to events at tent city almost daily. I cannot accept that these are everyday occurrences in my neighborhood because they did not exist prior to an outdoor encampment at Northshore UCC before or after the outdoor camp dates. I would suggest that a 24-7 host contact be available for neighborhood issues (if a 3rd party patrol cannot be provided by the church and the city)–it is necessary, in my opinion.

  21. I live a few blocks away, and though I’m not a member of the Methodist church nor have I been involved with TC before, I’m planning to see if I can help.

  22. Pingback: Images of Tent City 4 « Surrounded By Water: A Mercer Island Blog

  23. Hey,
    I’m an Assosciate Producer at The Dave Ross Show on Kiro Radio; we’re specifically looking for Mercer Island residents who are opposed to Tent City 4 moving to Mercer Island.

    If anyone is interested in being on-air to voice your thoughts on Monday the 28th, email me at pkw216@nyu.edu before 9AM on Monday.

    Thanks! Get your thoughts on the air!

  24. Karen Mercer Island, WA

    Yes we were never given notice of tent city coming to our neighborhood until the night it was passed by our “wonderful” city council. When 70% of the people in attendance were from off the Island speaking so highly of tent city and the 1st amendment was their right to do this. When someone starts off with the constituation and their rights makes your wonder what rights of yours are they stomping on. ??? The rest of us had just heard about tent city this day…Everything was accomplished behind closed doors. There was an extensive investigation for over 2 years but none of the Mercer Island residences knew about it. There was an interviewed done by King 5 on the So.end of the Island that said everyone was in support of it… Wonder how they knew that when not one person from the neighborhood where tent city it to be located was interviewed. And the church woman only living here for 4 months was on a campaign to have this here no matter what. Some good neighbor she has turned out to be. Yes we are mad, this is not what the homeless is about… It is a political statement shoved in our faces and when we just want our rights heard , by the the laws we all live by we are called haters, too rich, not in our back yard the the list goes on and on… I will fight this here and everywhere tent city trys to come. Some cities have even band it altogether… San Francisco,,, makes you wonder what is going on.
    Your neighbor,
    Karen,,, the sign person… and yes there are over 240 signs up… and more will follow… Yes and by the way try to sell a home located by tent city and see what happens… 😦

  25. mercerislandblogger

    Thanks for the note, Karen. I’m glad you engaged the community by putting signs up. If the process was really as poor as you and others are saying, that’s a problem. No matter what side you come out on Tent City as a concept, shanghai-ing it into a community is not the right approach.

  26. Who do we contact to volunteer?

  27. Pingback: Tent City Leaves Town « Surrounded By Water: A Mercer Island Blog

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