Thursday, June 4, 2009

Watch town hall meeting regarding Tent City 3 video here.

A history of Seattle's "organized" homelessness


Organizers of Seattle’s Tent City 3 are passionate about what they do, but they hope their jobs won’t last forever.

The Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) was launched back in 1990 when a group of homeless people gathered “to assert themselves in a positive way,” banding together to unify a voice for those living on the streets.

“We govern ourselves; we enforce the rules,” said Tent City 3 member Francis, who asked that his last name not be published.

True to its roots, SHARE is still run by homeless and formerly-homeless people throughout King County. The organization’s goal is to provide immediate shelter for all people in the Seattle area, and to act as a catalyst for the homeless to return to normal housing. According to SHARE advocates, the tent city has proven to be an effective way to provide urgent shelter, especially when winter shelters close down annually in early April, sending hundreds more homeless back out on the streets.

Joining SHARE is in its mission is the subgroup known as the Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL), which works with all the intentions of its predecessor, but focuses on homeless women. SHARE/WHEEL says its mission will be accomplished “when there is 100 percent housing and shelter for every child, woman and man in Seattle.”

“Tent cities provide a safe place to leave your belongings, flexible hours for workers and the ability for couples to stay together,” SHARE reports on its website.

Seattle’s first tent city, named Tent City 1, was erected behind the Kingdome in 1990. The encampment’s first night boasted two tents and 12 people, but within the week the number of residents grew to 125. Tent City 1 was dismantled when the City of Seattle moved the residents to an emergency shelter across from the Seattle Center.

The needs of the often-invisible homeless became more evident to the public in 1997 and 1998, when three homeless women were murdered in the “Jungle”—an unofficial tent city in a wooded area of Beacon Hill. Reports of the murders sparked a campaign for a safer tent community. As a result, Tent City 2 was set up on city property near the Beacon Hill Reservoir. According to Share, the mayor agreed not to arrest the residents right away, but sent police two weeks later to remove the tent city. In response, SHARE/WHEEL moved quickly to set up another camp below Jose Rizal Park, also in Beacon Hill. That refuge for the homeless was bulldozed a little more than a week later.

Yet SHARE/WHEEL refused to abandon its quest to provide housing for the homeless. In 2000, El Centro de la Raza, a Latino nonprofit organization focusing on community work, offered to host Tent City 3 in its parking lot. After the City of Seattle denied the organization a temporary-stay permit, the city fined El Centro more than $14,000 for refusing to disband the camp for six months. In response, SHARE, along with El Centro, filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle.

“The lawsuit wouldn’t have been much out-of-ordinary cost for Seattle, because it already employs those people daily,” said Al Poole, Seattle Human Service Department director of homelessness intervention. “But for organizations like El Centro and SHARE, I imagine those legal costs could have gotten pretty large.”

The nonprofits were able to avoid hefty fees when the two parties settled on a consent decree, which now governs the actions of Tent City.

“That consent decree is really the only involvement Seattle has with Tent City, and that decree is what allows it to operate within city limits without being challenged,” Poole said.

The consent decree does more than just allows Tent City 3 to legally reside in Seattle. The decree also provides a code of conduct that must be followed by all Tent City residents. Failure to enforce rules would result in a void of the consent, and permanent shutdown of the encampment.

“We have a zero tolerance for violence,” said E. Johnson, a Tent City 3 resident. “The policies here are appropriate and effective.”

One of the rules outlined in the consent decree stipulates that the tent city must move locations every 90 days. Today, Tent City 3 rotates between Seattle, Shoreline, Tukwila and unincorporated King County.

Currently, Tent City 3 resides on property at Cherry Hill Baptist Church near the Central District of Seattle. It is currently at full capacity with 100 residents, Johnson said.

Today the City of Seattle does not fund any Tent City expenditures, Poole said, but Seattle does help fund the city’s stationary shelters also run by SHARE/WHEEL.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Following the Rules: Tent City’s Code of Conduct


A serial killer murdered three homeless women before non-profit organizations and the Seattle's government began regulating the homeless encampment that they named Tent City.

With a formal name came two formal sets of rules: an internal code of conduct and a consent decree with the Seattle's government. The city of Seattle only enforces the consent decree; it doesn't make sure that residents follow the conduct code. But if residents break the code of conduct, they may be barred from the city by other residents.

“[Tent City residents] enforce the rules in the code of conduct; and they enforce them very strictly,” said a staff person from Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) who has been working there for several years but didn’t want his name to be published.

Campers take turns acting as guards to ensure that rule-breakers are forced to leave. For minor offenses, like missing a camp chore, residents can be banned for several days. But for breaking more serious rules, like the sobriety requirement, campers can be permanently evicted from Tent City.

“There have—unfortunately—been a very big number of permanent bars [from Tent City],” said Donald Vincent, a guard who is supposed to make sure that barred residents stay out of the encampment.

Vincent didn’t want to show the banned-residents list but said that it is “quite long.”

However, former residents who have been permanently banned, can be readmitted into camp if they have undergone rehabilitation, or if an internal bar committee decides to let them back in out of “mercy” Vincent said.

Short bars sentences for breaking minor last from one to three days.

Residents and community members are given a copy of the Tent City’s Code of Conduct which threatens that, “If these rules are not respected and enforced, Tent City may be permanently closed.”

But, Tent City’s consent decree with the city doesn’t include that threat.

The City of Seattle can close Tent City 3 for breaking different rules—like not letting the health department unexpectedly inspect the camp. But the Code of Conduct is only enforceable by Tent City residents.

The previously quoted staff person from SHARE said that this was a good thing for Tent City residents.

“You don’t want to be putting 100 people back on the street,” he said.

Tent City 3 residents confront stereotypes, support move to campus


Although the Associated Students of the University of Washington are recommending to President Emmert that the school host Seattle's Tent City 3, not everyone is in favor of having the homeless residing on campus.

While the debate between students continues to take center-stage, reactions to the proposal by tent city's residents have taken a back-seat to the controversy.

Spokesmen for the camp said nearly all of the residents favor the idea. Residents cited different reasons for wanting to come to the UW. Some want better living conditions. Others want to challenge students' thinking, to engage them in a mutual learning environment.

Students in favor of tent city residing on campus have gone viral, having created two groups on Facebook to promote their cause.

A third Facebook group is campaigning against extending an invitation to the 100 or so homeless people living in tents. The group cites safety concerns in welcoming the homeless to the University of Washington--concerns that many may consider homeless stereotypes.

Tent City 3 residents say the characteristics described are not associated with their tent city, most of them relating to drugs, alcohol, and violence. All of which are not tolerated at the camp.

Despite these restrictions, students like UW journalism major Katie Paff still object to bringing a tent city to campus.

“The university is an inappropriate place for Tent City 3," said Paff, declining to provide examples of why the tent city would be a problem to the institution. "Students and parents pay high tuition rates to go here and they shouldn't have to fear for their safety.”

The stigmatism that comes along with homelessness is nothing new to Tent City residents. Long-time resident and camp advisor to the Elected Committee at tent city, Lance Rowland said tent city initially faces opposition everywhere it goes.

“We run into the same thing you're witnessing right now, which is the fears, the hatreds, the phobias, the misinformation, the 'not in my neighborhood stuff,'” he said. “It's these stereotypes that are designed to keep us down, keep us in place."

Rowland explained that writing stories about homelessness doesn't change stereotypes. It takes engagement and learning.

“The words, the print, doesn't change fears and phobias," he said. "What changes it is the reality, eyes on, first hand, irreprovable real stuff.”

A former senior systems analyst for Physio-Control Corporation, makers of the first battery-operated cardiac defibrillator, Rowland is very articulate.

The proposed stay at the UW makes camper Robert “Shady” Gordon feel good. He thinks there are barriers preventing their stay on campus. Barriers founded in stereotypes.

“There are people here with degrees, that have owned businesses. Life has just kicked them in the butt, that happens, a lot,” Gordon said. “Just because we're homeless doesn't mean were not good people.”

E.J. moved to Tent City 3 for safety. He had a spinal infection that left him debilitated. He lives in pain, barely able to walk.

“I feel safe here," he said. "I don't have to worry about coming back and having all of my stuff stolen. Out there you're on your own.”

On the streets, E.J. says he was stabbed six times and had his jaw broken with brass-knuckles.

“There are currently 102 people at Tent City 3 and more than half of them work," he said.

Residents would like to improve their living conditions and aren't asking much of the university. A little more space, a flat area to camp on, more than one power cord and more than one water hose would be nice, they say. Resident Linda Richards said it's more space that she'd like.

“I would be very, very pleased if we could go there,” Richards said, “It's a bigger place. We're to cramped and I had to down-size the tent, which is like living in a closet. It's not easy to live in a tent so small.”

Residents see a stay on campus as a way to increase student's awareness about homelessness, as a way to change social attitudes about them. They acknowledge their roles as teachers.

Camper Mac McGlinchy said, “In all honesty I think it’d be a very good learning experience for not only the UW students because, lets call a spade a spade, most of them there probably got pretty good scholarships or their parents are paying for them and everything and they have no idea about homelessness. Also, the people here in tent city, they too could learn a lot in the process, as to a lack of a better way of putting it, to 'see how the other half lives.'”

Recalling their stay at Seattle University Rowland said SU's president, Father Stephen V. Sundborg, welcomed them, making their stay a “campus-wide priority.”

“Why is it socially unacceptable for someone to go hungry in this country, but yet it is socially acceptable for someone to be homeless?” asked Rowland. "Reality, not fear, is what changes peoples attitudes."

Mostly, residents just want the university to give Tent City 3 a chance to prove the nay-sayers wrong.

E.J. said, “It's really time to open up and see the by-product of your teachings. What do they have to loose? Really, what do they have to loose?”

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

ASUW endorses Tent City III on campus


The Associated Students of the University of Washington voted on Tuesday in favor of hosting Tent City 3 on campus, but not without nearly an hour of heated debate.

Noah Barclay-Derman, a graduate student in the School of Public Health, read the resolution and answered questions from the attendees.

“We are privileged to have social support and the opportunity for educational benefits,” he said. “We can enrich the community, give real life experience for students, and create civic engagement.”

Barclay-Derman also went over a few logistics, saying that the location where the tents would be pitched was undetermined, the costs of water and electricity would be funded by donors and sponsors and that Tent City 3 has had no incidents of crime outside of the encampment.

Barclay-Derman’s statement did not assure everyone. Bryan Weiser, the vice president of risk management for the Interfraternity Council, said that by hosting the tent city, UW would “deliberately be putting students at risk.”

Weiser said there had been one incident of crime in Tent City, but Barclay-Derman said he was mistaking Tent City 3 for Nickelsville, an illegal homeless group that has been located near the UW campus on a few instances.

Tent City 3 has a consent decree from the city allowing them on public property, but Nickelsville does not.

Others raised concerns over the educational benefits to placing a homeless encampment on a university campus.

“There are no educational benefits that require [Tent City 3] to actually be on campus,” said Alec Maghami, the vice president of administration for the Interfraternity Council.

The comment by Maghami led many students to speak up in defense.

“You would see it face to face and be immersed,” said junior Tiffany McGuyer.

“When I noted that a great deal of students don’t necessarily want this learning opportunity outside their classrooms,” Maghami said after the meeting. “I was met with a barrage of moral judgments indicating that only the close-minded would not want this opportunity and that universities exist to open minds.

“To me, this sounds like a learning opportunity being forced upon students who pay exorbitant sums to attend a top tier university,” he said.

Ehsan Aleaziz, who will be the 2009-2010 ASUW director of operations, said there was a similar homeless encampment by his high school and his town initially opposed it just like many students do at UW.

“It was a positive experience,” he said. “People found that they didn’t fit their stereotypes, and the homeless people were gracious for the help.”

Aleaziz said he thinks students who now oppose the tent city's stay at the UW campus would likely change their opinion like the people from his home town.

After nearly an hour of discussion the resolution was called to a vote after several attempts to modify it, all of which failed.

The resolution passed with a little over 60 percent of the student senate in favor. After the Faculty Senate vote, the official decision will go to President Mark Emmert.

Government to blame for Tent City 3's bad image


Executive Committee Member E Johnson says Tent City 3 has in herited a negative image based on stereotypes of homeless individuals. Encampment residents have done little to warrant the fear that erupts during Tent City moves.

"Nobody wants to be here, per se. There's a certain percentage that actually is probably better than what they had previously."

Freeberg says fights are the most common problems at Tent City 3.

"We've had fights. Cops get called. We don't tolerate that. And if they don't leave, we call the cops and they show up. Had one person die here last year. He was on a lot of medication and we think he may have overdosed."

SHARE/WHEEL formed an agreement with the City of Seattle to operate all tent cities as a sobriety zone. Tent City 3 is also mandated by the city to stay substance free.

Freeberg says internal problems are dealt with by the residents.

"We manage it ourselves, so if we gotta complain to anybody, we gotta look in the mirror."

Tent City 3 creates conflict on campus


Supporters of Tent City 3 moving to the University of Washington campus next year hope to raise awareness about Seattle homelessness and affect city wide social change, but not all students are on board.

“People go to a University to work hard and try to improve themselves,” said UW student Andy Barr. “The occupants of tent city are content to be freeloaders, many of whom make no efforts to get a job or improve their status.”

Now that the resolution to host Tent City 3 has passed in the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, Associated Students of the University of Washington Senate and the Faculty Senate, the official decision lies in the hands of President Emmert.

With all of the recent support rallied from student advocates, a Facebook group opposing the encampment’s move to campus has come forward to show Emmert that UW students are far from united, despite the ASUW Senate endorsement.

Hunter Marshall, a junior in the Health Services class that first proposed moving the tent city to campus, said that he believes that students are so divided because of misconceptions about homelessness.

“What I don’t understand is why homeless people are seen as a homogenous group,” Marshall said, speaking of the stereotypes he believes many students maintain.

Shortly after the ASUW approved the resolution, Barr created the group on Facebook that opposed Tent City 3 on campus in hopes of swaying Emmert’s final decision.

Barr said that his objection to the homeless encampment on campus is more about an inconsistency in values with many members of the tent city lacking work ethic.

After speaking with Tent City 3 residents, Marshall said he found the atmosphere was actually more conducive to encourage homeless people to find jobs.

“When you are living that intimately with 100 other people, you find connections and hear about job opportunities from others in tent city,” Marshall said. “The majority don’t want to live in tent city forever. When you stop and ask why they are there, it is because of abrupt unemployment or health emergencies…many are veterans.”

He said students should look to all of the benefits from Tent City 3’s month long stay at Seattle University in 2005.

Data accumulated after the tent city’s stay at Seattle University found that 17 different classes visited the camp and nursing and law students organized and operated a health desk and legal clinic on site.

Marshall and Nancy Amidei, a former faculty member of the School of Social Work, said that the same types of opportunities would be available to UW students.

“Part of the UW’s stated mission is ‘to discover timely solutions to the world’s most complex problems and enrich the lives of people throughout our community,’” Amidei said. “It is a public acknowledgment of our responsibility as a public university to put what we know to the service of the broader community.”

She said there are many opportunities to incorporate tent city into faculty members’ curriculum.
“Imagine, for example, if faculty and students in Architecture & Urban Planning were to team with tent city’s unemployed construction workers, draftsmen and others, to develop low-cost, green housing units,” she said. “What if our college of Education could offer ideas for the retraining of out-of-work homeless adults?”

Alec Mighami disagreed, the vice president of administration for the Interfraternity Council said, “This sounds like a learning opportunity being forced upon students who pay exorbitant sums to attend a top tier university.”

But Eileen Bartell, a UW alum and parent of a current student, said that she would tell parents of prospective UW students to encourage their children to attend another 4-year university without a tent city.

“My husband and I pay thousands of dollars for our daughter to attend UW,” she said. “Do the decision makers care what we think about putting a tent city at UW?”

Despite concerns of some parents and students, Marshall said that in addition to overturning negative assumptions about homeless people, hosting tent city next year will provide numerous educational opportunities to students. He spoke with several faculty members who said if tent city passed, they would incorporate the real life application into their curriculum.

Marshall said that the two possible locations discussed so far are the old archery field or the parking lot by Condon Hall. He said both locations are rarely visited or even passed by students.

Amidei said “Those who do not wish to interact with tent city residents would not have to. Interaction is entirely voluntary.”

The use of tuition dollars was an issue for freshman Curtis Howell as well.

“I pay money to attend a university not a soup kitchen,” he said.

Marshall said that regardless of Emmert’s decision, he hopes to set up an open dialogue for students, staff, and community members.

“Regardless of what happens homelessness is a very important issue that needs to be addressed.”

This week members from the Health Services class formally asked President Emmert for to create committee that would make logistical decisions about tent city. They requested a decision by the end of the quarter.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Homeless living at Tent City 3 comes with strict regulations


Tent City 3 might look like a jumble of tarps and tents from the outside, but its residents say everyday living at the encampment is much more complicated than that.

The encampment was founded by the SHARE/WHEEL homeless operative in 2000. It is currently set up in the Cherry Hill Baptist Church parking lot near 22nd Avenue and Cherry Street.

To keep up with anywhere between 50 and 100 people that stay at Tent City 3 each night, the encampment requires new residents to stay in group tents for two weeks or until a private tent space opens up.

TC3 is mandated by the City of Seattle to maintain single-gender group tents, said Personnel Committee Board of Directors member Steve Freeberg.

Encampment residents have dubbed the women-only tent the "Queen Dome" and the men-only tent "The Mash."

Residents are also required to sign up for job duties at the tent city, including completing two to three "community credits." The credits can be completed by managing the common areas inside the encampment, picking up litter near the area or attending church services.

Linda Richards said she has been the Kitchen Coordinator for Tent City 3 since it moved to Cherry Hill Baptist Church.

“I gather all the food donations and store them.” Richards said. “I also keep track of who makes donations each night—like caterers and churches and schools—and when the donations will be coming in.”

When another Tent City 3 resident asked Richards if she’d wash his dishes, she laughed and said, “You wish.”

The tent city is also mandated to have at least two people on security duty at all times. Residents receive community credits by patrolling around a two-block perimeter 24 hours per day.

"When you sign up [to join Tent City 3], you're mandated to participate in the community," Freeberg said. "You have to do meetings or you have to sit on the desk to do securities. If you really want to, you can be on the executive committee."

Residents gather every Wednesday for a weekly meeting. Executive Committee member E Johnson said that’s when elections for new committee members take place and where votes are taken to make decisions for the encampment.

“It’s as democratic as it gets,” Johnson said.

But despite the organization that Tent City 3 has established, residents said they are still ostracized for being homeless.

“When people think of homeless people, they don’t think of homeless people you see around here,” Freeberg said. “They think about homeless people downtown, sleeping in doorways, running to drug dealers. At [Tent City 3], you can’t make it like that. We have pretty strict limits and people are held accountable for their actions.”

TC3 resident Marty Robinson said he is dissatisfied with how residents are being neglected by local government officials. Even getting free bus tickets, he said, is impossible.

“Right now, we don't have anywhere to take showers,” Robinson said. “Well, we have to have public transportation to get to locations downtown to take care of ourselves. Without those bus tickets, people can't get around and do that.”

Robinson said this neglect emanates from prejudices of the homeless.

“I put myself here," Robinson said. “But I'll to be darned I'm going to let the people of this city and the people of this state judge me.”