Faith to succeed

March 30, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Former Tent City 4 residents credit church for success

Dave Hansen (left) and his wife Stephanie recount how their 2007 stay in Tent City 4 and help from Community Church of Issaquah led to full-time jobs, housing and being able to regain custody of her son Joshua Byle, 14 (right), from foster care. — By Greg Farrar

The last time Tent City 4 settled in the Community Church of Issaquah parking lot, Stephanie and Dave Hansen lived in a nylon tent and shared camp duties with other residents, hauling blankets and serving on the leadership team. Like other residents of the homeless encampment, the Hansens traveled from the grounds of church to church as the encampment wended across the Eastside.

For the Hansens, however, the trip to Issaquah proved different. Interactions with church members helped the Hansens lay the groundwork for a transition back to full-time employment and housing. By the time Tent City 4 left Issaquah in November 2007, Stephanie Hansen had joined Community Church and befriended fellow parishioners. Meanwhile, the church hired Dave to work as a custodian.

“I, personally, had probably been to over 20 churches and never found a church that I liked that accepted me for who I was and didn’t try to change me,” Stephanie Hansen said. “These guys did that. They knew I was homeless from the beginning, because they saw me over at Tent City. Dave, too. And they didn’t judge us. We are who we are and they accept us.”

The encampment returned to the church grounds in January. The arrival brought back memories for the Hansens, who spent three months living in the same spot. The family credits Community Church for the turnaround.

Nowadays, Dave, Stephanie and her son, Joshua Byle, share a Kent apartment furnished with donations from church members and coworkers. Stephanie Hansen works as a tax professional at H&R Block in Kent. Community Church members helped her receive the schooling she needed to get the job.

Joshua, 14, lived in foster care while his mother and stepfather camped in Tent City 4. Although Stephanie Hansen feared the day might not come, Joshua reunited with his family last June.

“There was one point there — because I didn’t see any changes in our situation — I told the court to find somebody to adopt him because I don’t see my life changing,” she said.

The arrival at Tent City 4

The path to Tent City 4 started in Seattle almost four years ago, when a police officer woke the Hansens beneath a tree near Bitter Lake, where they had slept for three nights. The officer told them to leave; otherwise, they could be arrested.

The couple headed to Ballard, where Dave had friends. A worker at a Ballard food bank provided them with the number for Tent City 3, the Seattle homeless encampment organized by SHARE/WHEEL, the nonprofit behind Tent City 4.

But the Seattle camp had no openings for couples. A camp resident suggested Tent City 4, where, sure enough, space for another couple existed. So, the Hansens headed to Woodinville Unitarian Universalist Church, where the encampment had settled for the summer.

They left the camp in September 2006 and returned several months later, in May 2007. Tent City 4 had moved to a Bellevue church. The relocation to Issaquah happened in August 2007.

Dave Hansen said the security and routine of Tent City 4 appeals to people looking for a fresh start. Rules limit the camp to about 100 residents, and strict rules keep criminals, alcohol and drugs off the premises.

“You want to keep the place safe and you want the bad out,” Dave Hansen said. “Keep the good in and get rid of the bad.”

Both Hansens served on the Tent City 4 executive committee, the resident-elected group responsible for day-to-day operations. Camp residents enforce strict rules to keep conflict to a minimum.

“You get to the point where you know that you’ve got to follow the rules or you’re going to be out on the streets again,” Stephanie Hansen said. “And you don’t want that.”

Giving back

Besides camp duties, Dave worked as a day laborer and Stephanie worked as a helper for a church member, Elizabeth Maupin. The modest income allowed them a few luxuries — the occasional meal out or a night at a motel.

“We tried not to eat as much of the camp food as we could, because we had that extra income and it allowed us to leave things for people who really needed it,” Stephanie Hansen said.

The upswing started for the Hansens when Maupin hired Stephanie as a caretaker. Maupin had scheduled surgery, and she needed a helper to aid her during recovery. Maupin — coordinator of the Issaquah Sammamish Interfaith Coalition, a group of local religious organizations — helped bring the encampment back to Issaquah in January.

The experience also brought the Hansens closer to Community Church. Every Sunday morning, Stephanie Hansen drove Maupin to church and, after a couple weeks, started attending services. Eventually, she joined the choir and — in May 2008 — joined the congregation when she was baptized.

Dave Hansen followed in January 2009. Joshua will be baptized on Easter.

“It kind of sucked moving from place to place” as a foster child, he said. “It’s just good to be in one spot now. It’s nice to be back with my family.”

Maupin credits the Hansens for taking the difficult step to leave Tent City 4. The family remained involved with the encampment. When Tent City 4 settled on Mercer Island, for instance, the Hansens dropped off donations at the camp.

Nowadays, Maupin and Stephanie Hansen serve together on the board for Response Ability Builders, a Tiger Mountain nonprofit with a focus on teaching homeless people to build disaster-relief housing.

Maupin said other Tent City 4 residents could emulate the Hansens’ success with dedication — and no small amount of hard work.

“Given a chance and support, they can make it, but they also have to choose to do their part,” she said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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