Off The Press

February 9, 2010

By Kathleen R. Merrill

Kathleen R. Merrill Press editor

On Jan. 29, Issaquah Press reporters Warren Kagarise and Chantelle Lusebrink spent the night at Tent City 4 behind Community Church of Issaquah.

The evening was, for me, a kind of dream come true. I wanted a reporter to spend the night at Tent City the first time it came to town in 2007. For various reasons, that didn’t happen.

I knew then, as I knew this time around, that people who heard about such places likely didn’t have a clue as to what happens there, why people are there and why it matters that others do what they can to help take care of their fellow man who has fallen down on his or her luck.Sure there are people who get the urge to wander and they end up homeless by choice. There are homeless people who don’t want to work a steady job. There are homeless people who are addicted to alcohol or drugs. But I’m willing to bet that there are far more homeless people who by one bad stroke of luck have had the misfortune of losing their home.

I knew that if we could show our readers who the people of Tent City are, everyone would be helped by the exchange — the reporters, the homeless, the paper’s readers. Could homelessness happen to you or me? You bet it could.

On Jan. 29, it rained off and on all night. The temperature got down into the low 40s. I was warm and dry in my house and bed that evening, and you likely were in yours.

But these two gutsy reporters were out in the cold and rain for the night to learn valuable lessons — for themselves, for me, for you. Each person at Tent City has a story about how or why he or she ended up there. Warren and Chantelle listened to many stories, far more than we could ever have room for in the newspaper.

I monitored my reporters’ condition as best I could as late into the night as I could. I worried about them until I fell asleep, well after midnight. My mind was on them the minute I awoke, at about 6 a.m. I wanted to take them to breakfast, but after a sleepless and uncomfortable night, they were just too exhausted to go.

Some of the things Warren and Chantelle wrote on Twitter during the evening really spoke to me, and I’m sharing some of them here.

9:20 p.m. — Rain patters against elaborate network of Tent City 4 tarps; camp leader tells residents to be vigilant for leaks — no small concern. (Warren)

I didn’t have to worry that night about my house or bedroom springing leaks, and if for some reason that had happened, I would’ve simply moved to another room until morning. But what about people who don’t have that luxury?

10:19 p.m. — Tent City 4 residents refer to themselves as “houseless” — not homeless. (Warren)

Isn’t it interesting how the people who are sometimes in the most dire circumstances come up with the most positive thoughts while the rest of us find reasons to complain about what really amounts to nothing?

10:59 p.m. — The rain tonight is nothing residents say. The 16-degree cold was worrisome in Dec. (Chantelle)

A few weeks ago, I was running a little low on fuel oil before payday, so I turned my thermostat down a few degrees for several days. But it certainly wasn’t 16 degrees in my house. Has it ever been in yours?

11:55 p.m. — Just broke a camp rule: allowed Honey Bucket door to slam. Resident joked I had “diplomatic immunity” and could escape unscathed. (Warren)

You get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and stub your toe, yelling out in the darkness. Do you have to be quiet when you get up because precious and valuable sleep is hard to come by for dozens of people nearby? I doubt it.

4:27 a.m. — Despite measures for warmth, sleep is hard to come by here because of the cold. (Chantelle)

And we think we have it tough when we forget to put on socks before bed or we can’t get the blanket quite right.

5:14 a.m. — Tent City 4 ritual: Reposition the sleeping bag, roll over, repeat every 30 minutes. Unlucky body part left exposed no matter what. (Warren)

Do you get cranky when you roll over in the middle of the night and wake up because your foot is sticking out from under the blankets? I do. But what if that foot, or an arm or your back, was out in 40-degree weather?

I loved this summary from a Tent City 4 resident: “Y’all got heart. Y’all will do anything for a story.”

Most journalists will, as long as it’s not too uncomfortable for them. But Warren and Chantelle went above and beyond to bring you meaningful, top-notch coverage and something to think about, one of my favorite goals of the craft.

I hope you don’t forget about these Tent City residents in the remaining two months they will be here. I guarantee you that we won’t.

Kathleen R. Merrill: 392-6434, ext. 227, or editor@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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