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.”

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