Tent City 4, Eastside homeless camp, returns to Issaquah
October 25, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Issaquah church hosts homeless encampment until late January
Tent City 4 returned Oct. 21, as teams started the long process to transform a church parking lot into a camp for up to 100 homeless adults.
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 crowd bustled, as camp residents and local church members, clad in raincoats and plastic ponchos, unloaded a truck and prepared spaces for nylon 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. The encampment is due to depart Issaquah in late January.
The move to Issaquah represented a milestone for Tent City 4 resident Amalie Easter. The encampment relocated to the church hours before the last Issaquah High School regular season football game — and Easter’s son plays for the Eagles. Until Tent City 4 reached Issaquah, attending home games posed a challenge.
“I hope to get there,” she said as she handled pallets meant for tent foundations.
Easter, turned out from a job at a Seattle medical center, arrived at Tent City 4 as rent and other bills mounted.
The story is common among camp residents, especially as the economy continues a feeble recovery.
“There but for the grace of God go I,” said Jan Bennett, a Faith United Methodist Church member, Tent City 4 organizer and Sammamish resident. “It could be me.”
‘All people are God’s children’
The relocation started on a rain-specked morning, as residents and volunteers loaded belongings into trucks parked at Temple B’nai Torah.
How to help
Tent City 4 returned to Community Church of Issaquah, 205 Mountain Park Blvd. S.W., Oct. 21. Organizers seek groups to serve meals, plus monetary and supply donations for camp upkeep and services for residents. Learn more at the Tent City 4 website, http://tentcity4.info.
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,” Bennett said. “They’re extremely willing to help. Whenever there’s a need, they’re there.”
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.”
SHARE/WHEEL, a Seattle affordable housing and homeless advocacy group, started the encampment in May 2004. Tent City 4 roams among Eastside religious institutions every 90 days.
‘These are normal people’
Though the most recent relocation to Issaquah did not raise concerns, Tent City 4 left other Eastside residents cautious in the early years.
Mercer Island residents attempted to prevent the camp from settling in the city, until a King County Superior Court judge intervened and allowed a church to host Tent City 4.
“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.
Temple B’nai Torah administrators and congregants better understood the logistics, because the encampment stopped at the synagogue 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.
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.
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.”
Tent City 4 offered Temple B’nai Torah members a hands-on lesson in tzedakah — or charity — as congregants collected supplies and a rabbi crafted 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.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.