Tent City returns to the Hill

Moving is a familiar process for many Tent City residents. But on Monday, June 28, the residents of Tent City 3 will once again find themselves on Capitol Hill. The homeless camp, which has been operated under the auspices of SHARE/WHEEL since March 2000, will occupy the north half of the parking lot of St. Joseph's Catholic Church on 18th Avenue East and stay through Aug. 2.

Depending on how Capitol Hill's borders are defined, this will be Tent City 3's ninth stay in the neighborhood, including four stays at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral. Following five weeks at St. Joseph's, Tent City 3 will move once again to St. Mark's parking lot, and stay through August. Tent City provides temporary housing for up to 100 men and women.

SHARE/WHEEL provides indoor shelter for homeless men and women and is the fiscal agent for the tent cities. A spokesman for the organization said it costs roughly $4,000 a month to operate Tent City, money raised through donations and fundraisers. The money is used to buy Sanicans, rents dumpsters and provide bus coupons. Food and other supplies - such as the tents - are usually donated. Moves are common: Tent City 3 has relocated roughly 50 times since its inception.

Beyond providing a safe place to stay, Tent City attempts to bring the issue of homelessness to people's attention. Tent City 4, which opened last month at a Bothell church, received a great deal of attention when it opened in an Eastside community perhaps less aware of the problem

St. Joseph's nearly hosted Tent City last year. Following a series of neighborhood meetings, during which time a variety of concerns were raised by neighborhood residents and church members, the church elected to delay the offer of its space. Such concerns ranged from parking impacts, both at the church and on nearby streets, as well as safety issues that could arise from having roughly 100 homeless people living in an upscale residential neighborhood.

According to Steve Wodzanowski, pastoral associate at St. Joseph's, the neighborhood's concerns have been largely addressed. He said that most, but not all, of the responses he's received have been positive.

"It seems there is a measure of peace at Tent City's arrival. The big issue has been safety, as well as possible problems from individuals who might be inconsiderate," he said.

As for parking, while he acknowledges that there may be some temporary impacts, Wodzanowski said that because Tent City 3 is arriving during the summer, when school is closed and church attendance typically decreases, he expects such impacts to be minimal.

As for security, Wod-zanowski said that Tent City's code of conduct can go a long way to allaying fears. Among other rules required of those who stay in the camp, Tent City is drug and alcohol free, allows no weapons and requires offenders to leave. Sex offender status is also checked.

"Of course I can't make any guarantees. But given everything we've heard, learning from other churches where Tent City has been, led us to believe that this is a good thing to do," he said. "There's been a good dialogue. This is one way to confront the issue of homelessness."

He said the church did its homework before inviting Tent City 3 to share its parking lot.

"I think there is still some fear on this subject. People are afraid, or at least cautious, of strangers coming into their neighborhood. We've done as much as we can to address issues surrounding Tent City. If there were to be problems we can ask them to leave immediately, so it's in Tent City's interests to be good neighbors. Most of these issues can't really be addressed until Tent City is here. Their track record is very good, which I'm hoping people who have had concerns will come to learn. What's one way to deal with our fears? Invite them in," he said.

Near record heat pounded on the tents across from the Cherry Hill Baptist Church at 22nd and Cherry on Monday, June 21. Under a make-shift canvas awning several Tent City 3 members spoke about the upcoming move.

Matt Gustamante and Sabrina Simmons have been at Tent City 3 for six weeks, arriving from Tacoma. Safety, they said was one of the most appealing aspects of Tent City. Being homeless can be dangerous: Eleven homeless people have died on the street this year; 38 died last year.

"It's cool here. I like it," said Gustamante. "I just try to be friendly for people. The only difference between us and other people is that we don't have a roof over our head."

Harold Miller, who's been at Tent City on and off for two years, said people are afraid of the status of homeless people in society. With an inadequate supply of low-income housing, and the large amount of money required to move into a market-rate apartment, getting off the street can be extremely difficult.

"People start out afraid of us but after we're here for awhile they know that we're mostly good people trying to make it in this world," he said.

"This place is a community, and we do work at being good neighbors," said Jeff Roderick, who's lived at Tent City for 19 months. "If something happens in the neighborhood we're at, we're automatically blamed, so we try to fit in. We don't want drug dealers or thieves here, either."

According to the SHARE/WHEEL spokesman, roughly one-third of Tent City's residents are working and another one-third are actively looking for work.

When the subject of the move to St. Joseph's came up, members were enthusiastic at the prospect of staying in a new neighborhood. They said they're approaching it no differently than any of Tent City 3's numerous other relocations.

"All we ask is that you give us a chance," Roderick said. "If you have questions, come and meet us."

An ice cream social event with Tent City 3 will take place on July 1 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, 732 18th Ave. E., from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Steve Wodzanowski can be reached at 324-2522, ext. 106 or stevew@stjosephparish.org.

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. Reach him at editor@ capitolhilltimes.com or 461-1308.

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