By Monica Spain • Feb 23, 2015
With homelessness on the rise, colleges now offer classes on the subject. At Seattle Pacific University, hosting a tent city easily integrates students with campers in the classroom.
But students there have taken that relationship a step further. At a recent poetry slam, barriers between campers and college kids dissolved.
Monique Vandenbroucke is a sophomore studying psychology at SPU. Every Wednesday, she cruises through Tent City 3, which is temporarily located in the heart of campus. She invites campers to join students in writing and sharing poetry.
On a recent night, it was a circle of 12, split almost evenly between students and campers. Jim Ketcham is a regular.
“Yeah, it’s a challenge, to share at that level, but it’s also exciting. It’s creative, and a good release,” Ketcham said.
Writing poetry is what helped Vandenbrouke through some of her own struggles with mental health. She and tent city resident Anthony Velarde noodled with his words.
“You may think I’m high/Until you look me in the eye/But it’s no lie/That I’m just bi/Polar … lost my words,” Velarde said.
Soon the feedback session morphed into exchanges about personal struggles. A camper drew a picture of her dream home with places for her kids to play. Students talked about theology classes and attempts to understand the divine.
Tent City has just one week left at SPU, and campers and students are wondering whether they’ll be able to stay in touch. Vandenbrouke would like to keep sharing poetry but isn’t sure if it will happen.
“I don’t know. I mean, that’s part of the sad and scary part about Tent City: What’s next?” she said.
Tent City moves to Shoreline in March.
Printed in the SPU Falcon February 4, 2015
Chris Yang/THE FALCON
Tent City 3 (TC3) is just what it sounds like: a self-contained city. What is distinct about this encampment of homeless individuals is its self-management.
During their weekly Monday night meetings, TC3 members assign new staff positions and discuss how to manage and implement new rules.
Tony Rinehart, a resident of the camp, compares TC3’s lawmaking process to the passing of government bills and TC3 residents to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
“Everything has to be voted on. It has to be actually motioned, seconded and passed in order for anything to go into effect,” Rinehart says. “[However] for us, it goes to the camp…We make our own decisions. When we put a rule into effect…the majority has to agree.”
According to Rinehart, the democratic foundation of the camp illustrates the way campers want to live.
“Because that means everybody has a voice. You know, we have a saying, ‘nothing about us without us,’” Rinehart says. “So, lot of people say, ‘I don’t want to go to a meeting.’ I say, ‘You don’t want to miss a meeting because that’s where everything’s decided at.’”
Though TC3 currently depends on Seattle Pacific and the SHARE/WHEEL organization for basic needs like food, electricity and water, TC3 resident and current executive committee member Jeff Rodrick says the community works hard to maintain itself.
“We have gracious hosts who have done enormous things for us, providing electricity and water, for example, for the shower in our camp,” Rodrick says.
According to senior Heather Bean, student liaison for TC3, there is minimal outside help aside from the basics.
“Tent City is a self-managed camp. There’s a representative from SHARE who comes through and will help with administrative stuff, like he’ll print out the agendas for the Monday night meetings,” Bean says. “[Otherwise] it works a lot with election. They’re really democratic, not particularly efficient, but that way they’re always fair.”
Lantz Rowland, a TC3 camper who has held staff positions in the past, says all residents have a part in managing the workings of the camp.
“The misnomer about saying ‘part of the management’ is in self-management, everyone’s a part of the management,” Rowland says.
According to Rowland, all members of the camp are equally important in the Monday meetings, and all are in charge of making the decisions.
“The rules and regulations are set by us, managed by us, enforced by us,” Rowland says.
Rodrick explains the reason the campers decided on this method of governing because it allows them to take control of their living space and make it their own.
“This is our camp. This isn’t somebody else’s camp. We have to follow their rules, although there are certain guidelines set aside by SHARE/WHEEL organization,” Rodrick says. “We hold our meetings. We elect the officials who are going to govern us, so it’s all up to us.”
According to Rodrick, TC3 has become homeless people’s only safe haven from Seattle’s cold streets.
Chris Yang/THE FALCON
“Tent City is one of the most important facilities for homeless people there is. They can keep their belongings, and we have security here to make sure it’s safe,” Rodrick says. “I don’t have to push a shopping cart with everything I own…We have showers here. We have clean clothes.”
According to Rodrick, the democratic environment of TC3 does more than simply give the residents a means of governing themselves. It helps create a sense of community.
“We’re safe here…We’re all individuals on the same level, all trying to better [ourselves], get a place to live and get out of this,” Rodrick says. “It’s cold, it’s wet…But it’s much safer than to be out in the street in a doorway, freezing. We have shelter.”
Rinehart adds being involved includes speaking up when you have a problem with the way camp is running.
“If you don’t like it, raise your voice,” Rinehart says. “If you think something [else] is better, raise your voice.”
Faith United Methodist Church’s volatile decision to host Tent City 4 changed a lot of minds, church leaders said as the traveling homeless shelter moved to its next site May 31.
After leaving Sammamish’s Mary, Queen of Peace in January, Tent City 4 set up for an emergency 30-day stay in Lake Sammamish State Park with the approval of the state. With options running low, the regional shelter petitioned for Faith United, located near the Klahanie neighborhood, to host the encampment.
“We kind of had to scramble to get things together, which we did,” Pastor John Brewer said. “After we got out in front of it, the experience itself of hosting Tent City 4 has gone very, very well. It went really without incident.”
Although eight arrests occurred during Tent City 4’s stay at Mary, Queen of Peace, Brewer said none occurred at Faith United.
The church’s congregation and the neighboring community met the matter with charged emotions when Brewer introduced it to them in a February informational meeting.
Of particular concern was the proximity of Tent City 4 to the church’s preschool. A group of parents openly expressed anger and threatened to remove their children from the school.
At the time, school Director Kathryn Aitcheson estimated that if the school lost 30 students, it could not afford operational costs.
After 60 days of parental patrols around the perimeter of the camp and active volunteering duties to provide meals to Tent City 4 inhabitants, Aitcheson said the school remains.
“It wasn’t that big of an impact that it could have been,” she said and mentioned ways in which the school also benefitted. “It actually allowed a chance to get teachers and parents together here. It was a win-win.”
The school did not escape unscathed. Aitcheson said that 14 students did leave. She said many, if not most, were because of Tent City 4’s arrival.
The school’s Parent Advisory Team, led by Lisa Deily, voiced great hesitation of welcoming Tent City 4 at February’s meeting. She expressed concerns about exposing the young children to homelessness. After the camp left, however, she felt the church’s involvement with Tent City 4 led to a growth opportunity for the whole community.
“As a parent body, we all feel that the kids weren’t even aware of Tent City 4,” Deily said. “The teachers did a really good job of keeping it age appropriate. I think that speaks volumes of the preschool.”
She said the opportunity offered everyone a chance to more honestly communicate worries and hopes for their children as well as develop bonds.
“It really did strengthen our preschool community,” Deily said. “This had people talking and people getting to know each other a lot better through this. It was a challenge, but it was a growing experience in the long run.”
“It polarizes you, but then it brings you all together,” she said.
Residents staying in the shelter gave high praise to the church for the hospitality offered by its community.
“I’ve been with Tent City 4 for over a year now and that was the best host I’ve had,” shelter resident Terry Debell said. “Those people went all out.”
Representatives from Tent City 4 leadership offered testimony and assurances from past experiences with hosts during the community meeting. Debell said anxiety of first-time hosts was common.
“The neighbors are hesitant and I understand it,” he said. “But we left in their good graces and that’s the way we want it. By the end, they miss us.”
He said he would have loved to stay, but “60 days is 60 days.”
“They were so generous and super nice,” Debell said of Faith United’s treatment. “I’ve been in a lot of encampments, and that’s the best.”
Brewer remained extremely positive about the school, the congregation and the surrounding community.
“I have to say the surrounding community has been so supportive,” he said. “It was a successful mission of outreach. We would certainly consider hosting again.”
Tent City 4 settled into its new location, Bellevue’s Temple B’Nai Torah, June 1.
Learn more at www.sharewheel.org.
Story & Photos By Steve Shay
Tent City 3 homeless encampment keeps an eye out on its own, & on Tukwila neighborhood, it says
Tent City 3, the homeless encampment of 100 adult men and women, plus a few cats and dogs, put down stakes last August at Riverton Park United Methodist Church, 3118 S 140th St., Tukwila, where it will remain until November 17, its official 3-month allotment. It will then relocate to a different church in the Seattle area.
Like Tent City 4, its Eastside cousin, Tent City 3 is sponsored by the 501(c)(3) organizations Seattle Housing and Resources Effort (SHARE) and Women's Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL).
According to Wikipedia, "The original Tent City and Tent City 2, both created in the late 1990s, were created illegally and opposed by the City of Seattle. After being tolerated for some time, they were eventually forced to shut down."
The other tent city, Nickelsville, is located in a West Seattle industrial area adjacent to its Highland Park neighborhood, and has remained there for 16 months and counting. Unlike the other encampments, Nickelsville accepts children. However, Tent City 3 has 20 emergency overflow beds, in addition to its capacity of 100, and says it will not turn away teen runaways in the short term. It will also help those under 18 find shelter and other services if they turn up at its entrance.
Tent City resident, Andy:
Tent City 3 resident, Andy, 37, spoke with the Highline Times while on desk duty at the entrance. The ex-Marine is from Richmond, VA., and said other veterans live at the encampment, mostly Army.
"This is a 'participation camp', so we have security 24 hours a day," he said. "Someone is on the desk 24 hours a day, and we rotate with two residents on three-hour shifts, 24 hours a day who walk through the neighborhoods in a two block radius and watch for anything that happens. We keep a folder and write anything suspicious we see in the neighborhood. A lot of people see a stigma of encampments. We have zero tolerance for drugs, alcohol, violence. There is no loitering in the neighborhood, and only one entrance. I know everybody coming in and going.
"About 25-percent of our residents work part time," said Andy, who has a background in construction including project manager and superintendent. "A large percentage is on SSI ( Social Security Supplemental Security Income) which is so low now they can't afford housing. Then you've got some with mental and physical issues where they can't seem to hold a job. Some just lost a job, and are looking, or are going to school.
"We send out letters asking a church if they will consider hosting us," he said. We like to know the next site ahead of time of course. We don't ask for anything from the church other than the use of their land. We've stayed at this church a couple of times. They are nice people."
Tent City 3 often returns to the same churches, creating a somewhat dependable cycle. These include St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral on Capitol Hill, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Shoreline, and Haller Lake United Methodist Church at 1st Av. NE and 130th.
Tent City 3 hosted by SPU:
They were hosted by Seattle Pacific University in January and stayed until March, unusual for a college. In an article by Mike Wold for Real Change, the weekly street newspaper, he quotes a homeless advocate who sites the encampment as a win-win both for its residents, and for SPU students...
“The most important thing was that it broke down barriers,” said Owen Sallee, coordinator of the Global and Urban Involvement program. “There’s a difference between serving meals at a shelter where you don’t eat with the guests and sitting down with people and getting to know them. You find out that they’re not really that different from you. The differences are often no greater than the differences you might find with some of the people in your dorm.”
Real Change newspaper founder Timothy Harris:
"I think one of the main attractions with the tent cities is that they have a peer management and peer support model that is less demeaning than most shelter," Real Change Founding Director Timothy Harris told the Highline Times. "They offer more flexibility, and in some respects better conditions in terms of personal security and crowding. The sense of safety comes out of the sense of community, which is absent in most large urban shelter settings.
"I think for most people, housing would be much preferable to tent cities, but given the scarcity there that's a very theoretical choice," he added. "It's well known that homeless people who once had community in a shelter setting, and then get into housing and find themselves relatively isolated don't do very well and sometimes become homeless again. Some housing programs get that, and work to create a sense of community. But that's what people get in the tent cities, I think, that some are afraid they'd lose in housing."
Tent City 3 residents Alan and Jennifer share a 10' X 16' tent provided by the encampment. Alan, 43, grew up in Tukwila not far from his current digs, and graduated from Foster High School there.
"This is not exactly how I wanted to move back to the neighborhood, but, OK," said Alan. "I'm unable to work due to physical disabilities, asthma, a steel plate in neck, lower back troubles. I lived with my (ex) wife and three kids six years ago. I had my kids eight months and I just wasn't able to function. Things spiraled, and I lived on and off with girlfriends, friends, until I ended up with nothing. I took a look at tent city. I liked what I saw.
"It is real, every day people who are here," he said. "It's not people who are always unwilling to work. You're one paycheck away (from homelessness), without a doubt. Sometimes circumstances snowball."
"I came up here from the Bay Area to be with my ex-husband and we broke up," said Jennifer. "I stayed and he left. I feel safer here than the other options, like being on the street, or in a shelter. There are no strangers allowed. There is security here and people don't steal. Everybody here watches out for each other."
Tent City 3 accepts donations onsite and offers a "Wish List" here. They are gearing up for the cold and rain and request winter clothes and blankets.
They can be reached by phone at (206) 399-0412.
They also seek volunteers to help them move on Nov. 17.