Tag Archives: Tent City

“Precisely How You’re Not Supposed to Treat Churches”

Is what a Seattle Times article quotes a constitutional law professor as saying about the new Tent City ordinances. Local clergy are saying the highly restrictive new law limits their right to minister to the homeless.

A church exercising its rights, allegedly.

“At issue is the Mercer Island clergy’s religious right to host the homeless encampment as part of its ministry. Law experts say that hosting a homeless encampment is a protected religious activity and that cities are required to use the least restrictive means necessary to regulate such camps.

City officials say the ordinance is supposed to ensure the encampment and its residents are respectful of residents and neighborhoods.”

Vociferous, impassioned debate: go.

City Council Considers New Rules for Tent City

Think City Council meetings are yawners? Not when Tent City‘s up for discussion. A “recommended ordinance regarding temporary encampments” is on the agenda on January 19. There will also be a public hearing.

 Tent city last time.

“WHEREAS Tent City 4 came to the City of Mercer Island in 2008 and the City developed its own experience with regard to the temporary encampment…”

New camps have these restrictions:

  • Must have a permit
  • No more than one camp in the city at a time
  • Max 100 people per camp; no children
  • 90 day maximum stay
  • Must be at least 20 feet away from any residential property, and have a fence at least 6 feet high between camp and homes
  • Must be within 1/2 mile of a public transit stop
  • Host is responsible for ensuring no drugs, alcohol or weapons are present
  • Must have checked for outstanding warrants or sex offenders
  • No permits for the same place for another 18 months

To get a permit, applicants must hold a public hearing and notify by mail all property owners within 600 feet. That part is clearly to address the anger over the permitting process last time.

Early in the “WHEREAS”es the authors basically say that the City can’t or won’t ban camps like Tent City entirely. But I’ll bet there will be plenty of debate on the new ordinance as well as any permit applications.

Odds & Ends

“Where Cupcakes Meet Fashion”

Falling into the odd, a bit of cupcake news: remember the delicious cupcakes at the Mercer Island Farmers Market? They’ve gone big. Cleverly-named blog CakeSpy covers Carrie Middlemiss and her startup Bella Cupcake Couture, which makes cupcake wrappers, and if I remember correctly, delicious cupcakes too. Here’s hoping the Farmer’s Market gets cupcakes again this year.

Better Baby Tunes

Also an odd but cool business, right here on Mercer Island: Rob and Lisi Wolf of Mercer Island run That Baby DVD, which says it’s not be like all the sweet and boring baby DVDs out there. The video on their site is worth checking out if you’re in the market for baby gear.

that-baby-dvd Click to go to their site and play.

Coldwell Banker Bain HQ Moving from Mercer Island

The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that Coldwell Banker Bain, the big Washington & Oregon real estate agency, is moving its corporate headquarters from Mercer Island to Bellevue. CBB has a lot of space in the North Island Commercial Center on 28th street, some of it a retail office, and it’s not clear if the move will affect this space.

Tent City Lawsuit Coda

Finally, an end: to the lawsuit over Tent City, dismissed by a King County court. The lawsuit was brought by citizens protesting Tent City against the city. “The claims were barred as not being timely.”

Tent City Leaves Town

It’s been about three months since Tent City came to Mercer Island, along with all the controversy. They’re leaving this Saturday.

I’ve been meaning to get over there and see what it really looked like. Yesterday I did. This is what it looks like from the outside:

Mercer Island Methodist makes their policy clear. Tent City is behind.

To get in, you need to go through Tent City’s in-house security. One of the guys manning security offered to show me around the encampment.

Typical tents.

Donated blankets for the encampment’s 100-or so residents.

Tent City’s kitchen.

The camp includes a shower, with hot water.  They also use Honey Buckets.

Main Street in Tent City.

We looked at the TV and computer room too, although I couldn’t take pictures because residents were in there. I asked how many private computers were in camp and my guide said about 7.

We talked for a few minutes after the tour, about temporary and permanent homelessness and the many things that bring people to Tent City. For example, several people were there due to divorce. The guy I spoke to was working and planning to get his own place again after a couple more paychecks.

The biggest complaint about Tent City was that it would bring crime. Based on the city’s crime statistics YTD 2008, that doesn’t seem to be the case. However the city’s chart doesn’t indicate when it was last updated and whether it includes most of Tent City’s stay.

It’ll take Tent City only about six hours to break down the camp at Mercer Island Methodist. Meanwhile thier advance team will be readying another site for setup, at some undisclosed location. And the convtroversy, I’m sure, will continue.

Tent City Sets Up

A quick update: following the sturm and drang, My Northwest reports that Tent City’s here.

Here’s the the Mercer Island Reporter article>, which reports on the continued controversy over the manner in which the City Council invited the encampment here (see Tent City on Mercer Island: Not All Sausage is Good Sausage.”) And here’s the city’s new website about the encampment, http://www.mercergov.org/tentcity. Notable on that site is a link to recent police activity related to Tent City.

Mercer Island’s Permit for Tent City: Not All Sausage is Good Sausage

Update: Yesterday (July 28th) the Mercer Island Reporter reported that the restraining order against Tent City had been denied.

I’ve been writing about Tent City and trying to put on this blog relevant information, like posting the website on all the fliers up around town, or a video of images from a former encampment.

But some of our neighbors have been much more involved than I. They’ve been to the City Council planning meetings and researched past encampments. They’re saying it’s the process as much as the concept of Tent City that riles them: that the Temporary Use Permit (TUP) was drafted in private and doesn’t include necessary safeguards.

Whatever your thoughts on Tent City, we’ve got to decide issues like this openly. Like any public act- building a highway, for example- people need to have a say early enough to influence the outcome.

So I’m going to turn over this blog to one of those neighbors. This was written by Tara Johnson, apparently to the City Council. The chart below is hers also.

Click for pdf

Please see the below examples. There are many more requirements that are discussed in the spreadsheet that I provided to you last night [MI blogger: at the City Council Meeting on July 7; see the minutes] but here are a few I would like to touch on:

Zoning Code Supports Permit- In all of the other Cities they have specific code or ordinances that support a Temporary Use Agreement for an encampment. We clearly know that Mercer Island does NOT have anything in our municipal code to support this agreement. Why is this critical? Our Municipal code protects our City and our Residents. If we don’t follow the rules there our financial and criminal implications. What happens if Tent City doesn’t follow the agreement? Nothing. That brings me to the next point…

Penalties for Violating the Code or Agreement-

  • Bellevue- Misdemeanor and civil violation LUC 20.40.460.
  • Issaquah- Misdemeanor-$5K Fine and up to 1 Year in prison IMC5.14.090. Kirkland- Civil Infraction- KZC 170.40.
  • Mercer Island- 14 days notice so they can correct their mistakes? No Financial or Criminal implications?

Liability Insurance-

  • Bellevue required liability Insurance between St. Luke and SHARE/WHEEL- 20.30U121.A.2,
  • Bothell required it under the director’s Discretion Municipal Code 12.06.160 (B)(3)(f2),
  • Issaquah required it under their special event permit condition #7 5.14.050(8)&(10).
  • Mercer Island-No requirement. Our agreement has a “hold harmless clause” for the City however, you left the Church and the neighbors hung out to dry. How thoughtful.

Security log or local police involvement-

  • Bellevue- Pastor Kidd (St. Luke’s) required to keep overnight resident log per the permit LUC 20.30U.121.A.1#5.
  • Bothell-Applicant shall keep log of all individuals who stay overnight-Transitory Accommodations.
  • Redmond- All background checks for new residents of TC shall be processed by Redmond Police-St. Jude’s Permit 12.21.2006 approval conditions #8.
  • Woodinville-Warrant checks shall include a record that lists the case identification number and time of a call-Ordinance 417 21.08.030B.
  • Mercer Island-Nothing.

Specific Health and Safety Requirements-

  • Yes, Mercer Island does mention in their Temporary Use Agreement that Tent City needs to allow for inspections by King County Health Department but I am talking about SPECIFICS.
  • Bellevue- Sewage and Waste Water Disposal, Hand washing and bathing requirements, specific disease prevention, refuse requirement and toilet requirements- 20.30U124.A.11.A-J.
  • Bothell- Showers or other bathing facilities shall be provided where warranted based on duration of operation of the transitory accommodation. Drinking water and solid waste requirements. An adequate supply of portable water shall be available on-site at all times. Adequate toilet facilities shall be provided on-site. Trash requirements- Trans. Accommodation Health and Safety Criteria iv & v.,
  • Issaquah- garbage/recycling should be stored 30ft. from Tent City or Canopy SPE07-000322 Public Works Operating Conditions k. Kirkland- No animals shall be permitted in encampment except service animals- KZC Section 127.25.2 #10. Redmond- Dumpsters are to be emptied twice a week and portable toilets 3 times a week RCDG 20F.40.170-040-Decision Criteria C.
  • Woodinville- Specific health requirements-ordinance 417 21.08.030B Development conditions h & i.
  • Mercer Island- No Specific Requirements.

The specific health and safety requirements that other Cities have included in their permits and ordinances are designed to prevent the spread of disease. They are designed to protect the homeless and the neighbors.

Stated Process for People Evicted or Turned away from Tent City-

  • Bellevue, Bothell, Kirkland and Woodinville all have written processes in their agreements or ordinances.
  • Mercer Island has nothing. Issaquah also does not have a stated process and at the Council meeting last night you were able hear of the crimes that were committed when individuals with lengthy criminal records were turned loose into the neighborhoods. What makes you think that Tent City will follow their policy for escorting people to the bus? They obviously didn’t in Issaquah or Kirkland.

Based on the police reports we have gathered (another 24 police reports were picked up from Redmond yesterday) unless a City has a stated policy in their permit or ordinance and repercussions for not following the stated policy, Tent City does not follow their own rules. I urge you to look at the binders we provided to you last night with the police reports and criminal records of the suspects. The crimes are shocking and the criminal records are frightening. Our Temporary Use Agreement has major holes and does nothing to protect the neighbors that elected YOU to look after our best interests.

I spoke with Chief Holmes last night and he acknowledged that the crime statistics the Kirkland Police Chief provided him were not correct. He at least will acknowledge a mistake was made. You have put our Police department in a difficult position. You are setting them up to fail. Our City is much smaller than Bellevue, Bothell, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond and Woodinville. We don’t have the police force that these other Cities have. At the very LEAST you could have approved a Temporary Use Agreement that made the job of Chief Holmes and his staff a little easier. You could have given your community Due Process and allowed us to help construct an ordinance that protects the best interests of the Mercer Island residents, our Churches, and the homeless people living in Tent City.

The saddest part about the way you and the other Councilmen have handled this process is that NO one has benefited from your actions. The Churches and neighbors are divided and the homeless have lost out. The homeless in Tent City are pawns for SHARE’s political agenda. At least other Cities have recognized this and fought this organization. When Tent City did come to their City they tried to offer protection for the homeless through their health and fire regulations and provide safety and accountability to the neighbors with their liability and police requirements. Drafting an ordinance after the fact is pointless. Let’s be pro-active and amend the Temporary Use Agreement before a tragedy happens in our City.

Thank you,

Tara Johnson

Not all sausage is good sausage..

Images of Tent City 4

Looks like the lawsuit from a groups of Mercer Island residents against Tent City 4 is official, per the Seattle P-I. For those of you, like me, who want to see more about what it’s really like:

Youtube has a “mini-documentary” on Tent City IV which is more a melange of images than a real story, but it’s a good place to see what a typical encampment looks like and hear some voices from it.

And here’s a post from a blogger’s visit to Tent City IV in Kirkland last November. It’s a comprehensive post, with interviews with two residents and the all-important first-hand impressions: “The place seemed safe and organized.” There’s also a good summary of homeless data from King County and an extensive list of sources.

Finally, there’s a good NPR piece on Tent City 4 that you can find in an earlier post. the comments on that post- there have been many- show the healthy ongoing debate on Tent City 4 moving to our community.

Tent City: Not Suffering from Lack of Controversy

All over the Island, these flyers have gone up over the last couple of weeks:

Flyer for Tent City, Mercer Island

Flyer for Tent City, Mercer Island

On Thursday night, our potential new neighbors found 170 people at the United Methodist Church to discuss their arrival, 25 of whom filed a lawsuit the next day.

On the flyer above, the first link redirects to the second, which makes me think that merceris.com isn’t a local organization but a local-sounding name for tentcitysolutions.com. The headlines on that site call out the fears a lot of residents have about Tent City: “Crime follows Tent City to yet another community.”

Whatever your personal thoughts on Tent City, get ready for some controversy. I predict this isn’t going to go quietly, on either side.

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.