Protests, acceptance fill Faith United Methodist Church meeting about whether to host Tent City 4

February 12, 2014

By Peter Clark

NEW — 3:13 p.m. Feb. 11, 2014

Tempers flared Feb. 11 at Faith United Methodist Church’s community meeting to discuss hosting Tent City 4.

With concerns for children, jobs and safety, almost 200 residents crowded into the church on Issaquah-Pine Lake Road in unincorporated King County. The meeting, according to Reverend Dr. John Brewer, was to share information about the possibility of housing the traveling homeless shelter on church grounds.

“We were approached two and a half weeks ago with a serious request,” Brewer said. “While we had only briefly considered hosting in the summer time, this request came urgently.”

By Peter Clark Nearly 200 people turned out for a meeting about Faith United Methodist Church possibly hosting Tent City 4.

By Peter Clark
Nearly 200 people turned out for a meeting about Faith United Methodist Church possibly hosting Tent City 4.

After staying at Sammamish’s Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church, Tent City 4 looked to move to another spot within the city. Then, the Sammamish City Council passed a moratorium on hosting the camp within its borders. Tent City 4 struck a quick deal with the state to set up in Lake Sammamish State Park, and through further negotiations, plan to remain until March 1.

Church Board of Trustees Chairman Bill Mincey said the church received the request Jan. 21. He said the trustees voted to recommend the church move forward to consider securing a permit and that included holding the community meeting.

“This meeting is part of that process,” Mincey said. “The county would not grant us that permit without this meeting. We know it’s been very sudden. We wish we had more time, but the need is urgent.”

A split crowd greeted a panel of Tent City 4 residents and former hosts. Many clapped for the church’s interest in hosting the camp. However, a vocal contingent also attended that insisted on asking about the safety of the church’s preschool and its future should the camp come to Faith United.

The first question asked of the panel whether any host had issues with welcoming Tent City 4 and whether any had a preschool.

“We have two preschools,” Kathi Rowely, pastoral assistant at Mary, Queen of Peace, said of the Sammamish church. She said it also has more than 300 children involved in faith-formation programs and all remained safe during the camp’s stay. “To my knowledge, no, there were not any issues with Tent City 4. There was tremendous outreach from the community with volunteering and bringing things out to the encampment.”

She said a survey of the community found 92 percent of them would like to host in the future.

Temple B’Nai Torah President Cliff Cantor said his community shared the same fears when approached to host Tent City 4.

“When we first hosted in 2005, we had a meeting just like this,” Cantor said. “It was a first for the city of Bellevue, and there was a lot of dissension within our congregation, within our board and within our neighbors. So, we had to work through that process. Once that decision was made, and Tent City moved in, at the end of that process there was almost a complete reversal.”

The speakers could only answer the one question before loud protests began interrupting the proceedings.

Many reacted with anger at the manner in which they could ask questions. Because of the large number of people, Brewer invited attendees to write questions down on cards, pass them along to volunteers and then wait for the panel to respond.

“Why won’t you allow standing comments?” asked a man loudly.

Others echoed his concern.

“We have a room full of very, very concerned parents,” a woman in the rear of the church said. “So far, all I’ve heard is, ‘This is your meeting.’ I don’t hear a lot of hard, pointed questions.”

Panel members respected a portion of the audience’s apprehensions.

“Every one of these concerns is a valid concern,” Cantor said. “This church is trying to be a good neighbor to our homeless neighbors, but they would be amiss if they weren’t trying to be a good neighbor to their homed neighbors.”

Residents of Tent City 4 repeatedly pointed out the encampment’s safety record.

“No one has ever been hurt in the 24 years of SHARE’s existence,” camp resident Jeff Toll said, referring to the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort, the umbrella network under which Tent City 4 falls. “In all the years, no child has ever been harmed in our camp. We have a strict code of conduct.”

Every camp resident took their turn to explain the thorough process of gaining residency in the camp, which involves warrant checks and complete sobriety.

“We have a process and the process works,” camp resident Cynthia Moss said.

Still, the assurances could not calm some parents in the crowd.

“It sounds too good from up there,” a parent who asked to remain anonymous said. “Physically hurt is one thing, but seeing something that’s going to frighten them, that hurts them, too. How am I supposed to answer, ‘Why’s there security around my brother’s school?'”

The future of the preschool surrounded the conversation. Lisa Deily, a concerned parent of a preschool child, interjected to say a group had collected almost 100 signatures to ask the church not to host the camp at this time.

“We are not against you, but it is our first and foremost commitment to protect our children,” Deily said. “Preschool is a time for our children to learn the beauty of God’s world around them, and not to discover the harsh realities of life. That will come soon enough.”

She joined a sector of the crowd in asking the camp to request a spot in summer, when children do not attend preschool.

Preschool Director Kathryn Aitcheson talked about the financial strain that could befall the school should parents choose to remove their children.

“To lose anybody would be devastating,” Aitcheson said. “When we look at actually real-live numbers and we crunch it, it’s about 30 students, then we’re in deep trouble. Our budget is solely dependable on the tuition that we get and we need every penny.”

She did not want to raise an alarm about the immediate future, however, and recognized the church’s backing.

“I do know our leadership of the church would support us and ensure that we can finish out this school year,” Aitcheson said.

In the end, the crowd seemed split on whether to welcome Tent City 4, while Brewer continued to plead for an open mind and to reflect the church’s history of stewardship.

“This congregation has a history of helping low-income and homeless,” Brewer said. “Many of you in your own religious institutions probably participate in the same way. We all know that homelessness is a serious public problem. We as a church want to be a part of the solution and we know you do, too, from what you’ve shared with us.”

While he did not give an exact timeline of the church’s decision, Brewer said leadership would meet Feb. 12. A decision would follow in the days after that meeting.

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3 Responses to “Protests, acceptance fill Faith United Methodist Church meeting about whether to host Tent City 4”

  1. Wes Howard-Brook on February 15th, 2014 4:17 pm

    People who call themselves “Christians” and are unwilling to respond to the needs of the desperately poor in our area ought to take a good look at the Gospel and see what Jesus puts at the heart of faithfulness:

    25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

  2. Deanna on February 17th, 2014 3:35 pm

    Was Wes at the meeting?

  3. Rob on February 18th, 2014 11:10 am

    This madness does nothing for the homeless but might perhaps be a salve to the conscience of the hosts. While I have no soluton for homelessness these tent cities don’t help, they just drag down the host neighborhoods. The temple b’nai torah comments are selective and self-serving – just like government. The camps lead to a permanent lowering of neighborhood standards and values. Just say no.

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