Tent City 4 stay eases Faith United fears

June 10, 2014

By Peter Clark

Faith United Methodist Church’s volatile decision to host Tent City 4 changed a lot of minds, church leaders said as the traveling homeless shelter moved to its next site May 31.

After leaving Sammamish’s Mary, Queen of Peace in January, Tent City 4 set up for an emergency 30-day stay in Lake Sammamish State Park with the approval of the state. With options running low, the regional shelter petitioned for Faith United, located near the Klahanie neighborhood, to host the encampment.

“We kind of had to scramble to get things together, which we did,” Pastor John Brewer said. “After we got out in front of it, the experience itself of hosting Tent City 4 has gone very, very well. It went really without incident.”

Although eight arrests occurred during Tent City 4’s stay at Mary, Queen of Peace, Brewer said none occurred at Faith United.

The church’s congregation and the neighboring community met the matter with charged emotions when Brewer introduced it to them in a February informational meeting.

Of particular concern was the proximity of Tent City 4 to the church’s preschool. A group of parents openly expressed anger and threatened to remove their children from the school.

At the time, school Director Kathryn Aitcheson estimated that if the school lost 30 students, it could not afford operational costs.

After 60 days of parental patrols around the perimeter of the camp and active volunteering duties to provide meals to Tent City 4 inhabitants, Aitcheson said the school remains.

“It wasn’t that big of an impact that it could have been,” she said and mentioned ways in which the school also benefitted. “It actually allowed a chance to get teachers and parents together here. It was a win-win.”

The school did not escape unscathed. Aitcheson said that 14 students did leave. She said many, if not most, were because of Tent City 4’s arrival.

The school’s Parent Advisory Team, led by Lisa Deily, voiced great hesitation of welcoming Tent City 4 at February’s meeting. She expressed concerns about exposing the young children to homelessness. After the camp left, however, she felt the church’s involvement with Tent City 4 led to a growth opportunity for the whole community.

“As a parent body, we all feel that the kids weren’t even aware of Tent City 4,” Deily said. “The teachers did a really good job of keeping it age appropriate. I think that speaks volumes of the preschool.”

She said the opportunity offered everyone a chance to more honestly communicate worries and hopes for their children as well as develop bonds.

“It really did strengthen our preschool community,” Deily said. “This had people talking and people getting to know each other a lot better through this. It was a challenge, but it was a growing experience in the long run.”

Aitcheson agreed.

“It polarizes you, but then it brings you all together,” she said.

Residents staying in the shelter gave high praise to the church for the hospitality offered by its community.

“I’ve been with Tent City 4 for over a year now and that was the best host I’ve had,” shelter resident Terry Debell said. “Those people went all out.”

Representatives from Tent City 4 leadership offered testimony and assurances from past experiences with hosts during the community meeting. Debell said anxiety of first-time hosts was common.

“The neighbors are hesitant and I understand it,” he said. “But we left in their good graces and that’s the way we want it. By the end, they miss us.”

He said he would have loved to stay, but “60 days is 60 days.”

“They were so generous and super nice,” Debell said of Faith United’s treatment. “I’ve been in a lot of encampments, and that’s the best.”

Brewer remained extremely positive about the school, the congregation and the surrounding community.

“I have to say the surrounding community has been so supportive,” he said. “It was a successful mission of outreach. We would certainly consider hosting again.”

Tent City 4 settled into its new location, Bellevue’s Temple B’Nai Torah, June 1.

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