Tent City 4 relocates to Community Church of Issaquah
October 21, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 12:20 p.m. Oct. 21, 2011
Tent City 4 returned to Issaquah on Friday, as teams started the long process to transform a church parking lot into a camp for up to 100 homeless adults.
The move to Issaquah is special for Tent City 4 resident Amalie Easter. The camp relocated on the same day as the last Issaquah High School regular season football game.
Easter’s son plays for the team, but until Tent City 4 reached Issaquah, attending the games posed a challenge.
“I hope to get there,” she said.
The scene around Easter bustled, as people clad in raincoats and plastic ponchos unloaded a truck and laid the foundations for tents.
“We got the Hilton!” a man shouted from the truck gate. “Where do you want it?”
Only, the Hilton is not a luxury hotel, but a repurposed military tent — and a sleeping place for male residents during the 90-day stint at Community Church of Issaquah.
In a scene familiar to church members and Squak Mountain neighbors, Tent City 4 residents assembled pallets and plywood floorboards in a careful arrangement on the rain-slicked asphalt.
The relocation started on a rain-specked morning, as residents and volunteers loaded belongings into trucks parked at Temple B’nai Torah.
The tents and residents’ belongings remained at the Bellevue synagogue by late morning. Organizers planned to transport the last pieces from Temple B’nai Torah throughout the afternoon.
Tent City 4 last settled at the Issaquah church in August 2007 and January 2010.
“People here care,” said Jan Bennett, a Faith United Methodist Church member and Sammamish resident. “They’re extremely willing to help. Whenever there’s a need, they’re there.”
Most residents depart the encampment during the day and head to jobs or to search for employment.
“These are normal people,” Easter said. “They’re not winos. They’re not drunks.”
The campsite features 24-hour security. Organizers conduct warrant and convicted sex offender checks on potential Tent City 4 residents, and do not admit offenders. The camp bans alcohol, drugs and guns from the premises.
Easter said she lost her job at a Seattle medical center and then totaled her car in less than a year. The setbacks left her unable to afford rent and other bills.
The story is common among Tent City 4 residents, especially as the economy continues a feeble recovery.
“There but for the grace of God go I,” Bennett said. “It could be me.”
Tent City 4 residents also educate the congregations and neighbors at the host sites.
“What we learn is that people are people — and all people are God’s children,” said the Rev. Keith Madsen, Community Church of Issaquah pastor. “These are people who have something to offer. We can care about them and we can learn from them.”
Tent City 4 roams among Eastside religious institutions every 90 days. The encampment is due to depart Issaquah on Jan. 21.
“It makes people aware that there is a homelessness issue on the Eastside,” Robin Plotnik, Temple B’nai Torah immediate past president and a Redmond resident, said before the Tent City 4 departure.
The visit and the holiest days in Judaism, or the High Holy Days, coincided.
Tent City 4 offered Temple B’nai Torah members a hands-on lesson in tzedakah — or charity — as congregants collected supplies for Tent City 4 and rabbi built a discussion based on camp residents’ comments.
“It really makes it a more human interaction to homelessness,” Plotnik said. “People have names and stories and lives. We get to really know them. We sit down and have meals with them. It’s a good education piece.”
Temple B’nai Torah administrators and congregants understood the logistics more, because the encampment stopped at the temple in 2005 and 2008. Neighbors also paid little attention to the encampment on the latest visit.
“The neighborhood was apparently really accepting or it was a nonevent,” Plotnik said.
The most common questions from Tent City 4 neighbors address concerns about crime. Organizers in Issaquah heard few questions from neighbors before the return.
“I think it, maybe, even gets people to start thinking about more permanent solutions and the broader issues of how we, as a society, deal with some of the more uncomfortable issues and how to help people who are having a hard time getting through life,” Plotnik said.