Sammamish church eyes welcoming Tent City 4
October 2, 2013
By Peter Clark
NEW — 10:45 a.m. Oct. 2, 2013
Tent City 4 might move to Sammamish.
Members of the Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church Council are meeting tonight to decide if they want to extend an invitation to the group. If they do, the encampment could be in Sammamish a little more than two weeks later.
Organizers from the Tent City community received a shock late this summer when Bellevue, whose turn had arrived to host the traveling tented encampment, denied Tent City 4’s return.
“There are now two campsites on the Eastside,” Elisabeth Maupin, coordinator of the Issaquah Sammamish Interfaith Coalition, said, explaining the current Bellevue situation. “The other campsite had already filed for a permit to stay in Bellevue. And because Bellevue has a codicil that only allows for one campsite, the other camp was rejected.”
The traveling encampment where homeless people can find meals and a place to stay, which currently resides in Redmond, could find no potential host. The camp typically stays at each site for 90 days.
Because Tent City 4 must evacuate the present site by Oct. 19, an emergency meeting was held Oct. 1 to brainstorm possible locations to house the camp as autumn begins.
Twenty-one people, representing regional churches, charity organizations, local governments and Tent City 4, met at Issaquah’s City Hall to discuss a future location.
“The reason we’re all here today is that Tent City 4 needs a place to be, in a very short time frame,” Maupin said at the meeting. “Churches that have been approached so far have all had obstacles.”
Though Tent City 4 was previously housed three times at the Community Church of Issaquah, the church has since sold its building, leaving no alternative in the city. The reluctance of Issaquah churches to welcome the encampment quickly led the meeting toward the Rev. Kevin Duggan, of Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Sammamish.
“We want to see if there’s a strong consensus in favor of it,” Duggan said. “Everyone realizes that this isn’t a one-person, one-vote kind of thing. The important thing is to build consensus between the church leadership. The word is just getting out, but so far, there isn’t anyone coming out expressing strong opposition. We just want to make sure that people aren’t getting caught by surprise.”
Duggan spoke at the Sammamish City Council meeting later that day. He said that, informally, support for allowing the encampment among the church council seemed generally supportive, but not unanimous.
He explained that if it were to happen, the encampment would be housed on a grassy area behind the church.
Duggan noted that Tent City 4 can accommodate up to 99 people, but it typically runs at 60 percent to 75 percent of its capacity. He said that the area the church can offer is not ideal in terms of size, but it may work.
“They’ve looked and said it would be a tight fit, but they’ve worked with less,” Duggan said.
Members of the Sammamish City Council had little to say during Duggan’s presentation.
Councilwoman Nancy Whitten pointed out that Sammamish has little transit service (essentially two commuter bus lines), and she’d understood that was a hurdle to the encampment being hosted anywhere in the city.
Duggan reported that Tent City organizers had looked into the matter and that the bus service available in Sammamish was workable.
City Manager Ben Yazici gave the council a short outline of Tent City’s code of conduct, explaining that the camp forbids drugs, weapons and foul language. He noted that other cities that have hosted the camp have generally had a positive experience.
Councilman Ramiro Valderrama praised the church’s interest in being a host.
“It’s very commendable that you are considering this,” he said.
During the meeting earlier in the day in Issaquah, the group responded favorably to the possibility of settling in Sammamish for a time, and Sammamish Community Development Director Kamuron Gurol cautiously discussed bureaucratic hurdles.
“We’re trying to learn more about what the nature of the problem is and see if we can help reach a solution,” Gurol said. “Code requirements for encampments like this is something we’ve been meaning to do and haven’t gotten around to yet. But we realize there is a crisis right now.”
Without full city regulations to permit the camp, he said a temporary-use permit would be the best Sammamish could offer. It would limit use to 60 days and could not be renewed within the same calendar year. Such a permit does not require public notice or have a public process.
“I don’t have the authority to extend that,” Gurol said. “It is the simplest permit. It’s administratively issued. It’s pretty simple, and it’s very easy.”
Christopher Wright, associate planner with Issaquah’s Development Services Department, was present to offer advice for Sammamish based on past experience. He said Issaquah did have the luxury of time when the city hosted Tent City 4, but that it should prove a positive experience for Sammamish.
“I would say we had the benefit of plenty of time to reach out to the community,” Wright said. “Ultimately, it was a positive thing. The city felt good about it. We were lucky we had time to plan for it, but ultimately it worked out well.”
While a public process is not required, Duggan said the church was extremely aware of how much time it would have to spend with its neighbors, ensuring the spread of information.
“It’s my sense from talking to those that have the experience that the biggest challenge is always the first time,” Duggan said. “That’s when you face the biggest amount of resistance from your neighbors and in the church community. That first time that Tent City comes, that’s when it takes the most time and energy to build the amount of goodwill. All that seems to dramatically decrease or disappear when they come back a third or fourth time.”
When asked how quickly a permit could conceivably be procured for a Sammamish Tent City 4, Gurol said he was uncertain.
“The truth is I can’t predict,” he said. “My crystal ball would say it’s possible within the time frame given here. I also think that the permitting procedure is not the gateway use, which is the community issue.”
Sammamish Review Editor Ari Cetron contibuted to this story.