In a community that has seen its fair share of homeless people wandering the streets, many Beacon Hill residents say they are divided on the upcoming arrival of Tent City III at El Centro de la Raza on Sept. 6. The migrating homeless encampment is scheduled to stay on the community center's property at 2524 16th Ave. S.. for three months.
Share/Wheel, the organization running Tent City, describes itself as an organization for homeless people run by homeless people. It is managed and democratically self-governed, and has drawn up a strict code of conduct for Tent City where sobriety and non-violence are concerned.
During a community meeting on Aug. 19 at El Central de la Raza, many Beacon Hill residents mentioned the good that comes with the arrival of Tent City. However, the residents did not shy away from the uneasy feelings they have about the large group of homeless folks setting up camp for the third time in four years on one of Beacon Hill's busiest streets .
"I am open to having you here, but I have some concerns," said Jeff Sakuma, a neighbor of El Centro de la Raza. "If [Tent City has] been around for four years and you've been here for nine months in the past already, you've been here 20 percent of the time during your existence, and that seems a bit much. I would expect to see that spread around Seattle in a more reasonable fashion."
Though the time that Tent City has spent on Beacon Hill does seem a bit disproportionate when compared to other neighborhood host-sites, some residents have no qualms about the encampment's stay. At the meeting, a few of them even highlighted the benefits they said they experienced in the neighborhood the last time Tent City stayed at El Centro de la Raza.
"I'm happy to see you guys come back," said one man to the Tent City representatives at the meeting. "I will second some of the concerns, but when you guys are here, the place is a lot cleaner, and as a neighbor, we all appreciate that. There also aren't the guys who sit on the steps and drink alcohol and pee in the bushes all day when you guys are here."
Other Beacon Hillers acknowledged the misconceptions surrounding Tent City, while noting that many of the semi-nomadic shelter's detractors are proven wrong once they experience living as neighbors next to Tent City.
"When Tent City first came to Beacon Hill, I was one of the most vocal opponents ... probably in the history of the South End and probably in the city," said a long-time resident of Beacon Hill who has witnessed the previous two Tent City stays. "I changed my mind. I changed my mind because the people of Tent City changed my mind."
Good behavior only
A maximum of one hundred homeless men, women, and sometimes children are allowed to make residency at Tent City. When asked if sex offenders are allowed residency, one of the project managers said, "We have a weekly updated sex offenders list that gets checked constantly. They are not allowed to stay, and we will escort them to the bus stop."
Many neighbors also expressed concern about other homeless groups that have a tendency to follow Tent City around, even though they are not affiliated with the organization.
"What I've noticed is that there are a lot of hanger- ons," said Sakuma. "They park their cars in the neighborhood, and they sort of hang out here. You may not consider them a part of you, but I consider them part of you. I'm expecting that if they're around you'll deal with them, especially people changing in their cars at all times of the day - people living in those cars. That's not okay."
Though meeting participants acknowledged certain problems do arise when Tent City is running, they also noted its residents do what they can to keep the neighborhood clean and safe. Aside from going on regular litter pickups, Tent City inhabitants are told to report any suspicious activity that goes on around the neighborhood.
"We go out on a two block radius, and if we find anything suspicious, we report it," said a Tent City resident. "This is my home in the city. I want it to be safe."
Though much controversy still exists around the decision to let Tent City III take up residence once again on Beacon Hill, Roberto Maestas, founder and executive director of El Centro de la Raza, is not hesitant in welcoming the encampment with open arms.
"We are thrilled to have Tent City back because the first and second experiences have taught us a lot, and gave us an opportunity to make new friends," says Maestas. "Here at El Central de la Raza, we do our best t o prioritize and to help [stop] human suffering."