Off the Press
October 18, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Issaquah greets, embraces Tent City 4
Tent City 4 is due to return just in time for autumn chill and damp, but Issaquah — a community celebrated for a commitment to helping people in need — is certain to offer a warm embrace to the encampment.
The camp, a tarp-clad home to about 100 people, settled on the Community Church of Issaquah parking lot in August 2007 and again in January 2010.
Days after the camp settled in Issaquah for the most recent stint, camp residents extended a greeting to myself and another reporter for a night behind the Tent City 4 fence.
(The initial idea emerged as a way to introduce readers to camp residents and chronicle the experience on Twitter — a then-novel idea as The Issaquah Press started to experiment in the social media realm.)
The encampment provided shelter to about 80 people then. Some shared stories eagerly. Others needed some coaxing to open up to a notebook-toting stranger.
Inside the encampment, interviewees said camp life offered a chance for stability.
Tent City 4 is a democracy. The residents elect a camp executive committee to run everyday affairs. Members vote to decide major decisions — such as the unanimous decision to allow reporters to crash the camp for a night.
Many residents had been turned out from jobs in the most dismal economy since the Great Depression. The camp demographics encompassed all ages, both genders and numerous races. Only children — a no-no under Tent City 4 rules — do not call the camp home.
Throughout the evening, I listened to horror stories about homeless-shelter bedbugs and heard about the challenge near-constant Pacific Northwest rain poses to Tent City 4 residents.
Then, just after midnight, I climbed inside a borrowed sleeping bag, sidled up to a rice-filled pillow heated in the communal microwave.
Layered beneath the sleeping bag, blankets from the camp supply and a too-thin sweater, the January chill kept seeping inside to my skin.
Tent City 4 residents jokingly referred to the men’s communal tent as the Hilton. Though the camp lacks the niceties of a hotel, Tent City 4 offers amenities to residents — hot showers, Internet access and cable on a shared TV set up in a large tent.
The most critical amenity, however, is not tangible. Tent City 4 residents said Issaquah embraces the community unlike any other Eastside city.
The sense of community inside Tent City 4 — and in the Issaquah community pledging to help camp residents — is the most important feature the camp can offer.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.