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City officials keep Council posted on homeless camp

Councilmembers received their first update concerning Tent City Monday night as dozens of Islanders lauded the community's efforts to help the homeless, while others asked for verified warrant checks on the "grandfathered-in" camp residents whose names were not reviewed when the camp moved in earlier this month.

During the City Council's regular meeting, city and church officials, as well as neighborhood and camp residents, presented the goings on about the temporary homeless encampment, which is set up at the United Methodist Church on the corner of S.E. 24th Street and 71st Avenue. According to the police chief, deputy fire chief and Development Services director, the camp is in compliance with the temporary-use agreement. A county public health nurse also stated the camp was clean and tidy, with no need for neighbors to worry about the spread of disease.

Police Chief Ed Holmes noted there had been four arrests involved with the camp in the first 12 days on the Island, with two arrests being drivers with invalid licenses and another for an outstanding warrant that took place earlier that day. The fourth arrest happened the day the camp moved in as a woman was violating a no-contact order with another passenger in a car searching for the church.

"We have conducted 75 walk-throughs in the last two weeks," Holmes said of the department checking in on the camp. "When I come in I am received with open arms and I appreciate that. And we are getting input from neighbors — which as part of our response plan — the citizen involvement has been our eyes and our ears. It has gone by fairly well, as expected."

Nearly 100 Islanders and Tent City residents attended the meeting, with 35 speaking publicly before the Council and 27 more submitting written comments. The majority of all comments were supportive of the camp. Several supportive signatures of numerous Island congregation members were also submitted.

In addition to the show of support, other First Hill residents expressed concern that the camp had not checked for outstanding warrants on 93 camp residents who moved from Bellevue to the Island. First Hill residents neighboring Tent City asked the City Council to have the police or city attorney's office verify the warrant status of the homeless campers that were "grandfathered in" since they were not checked when they moved to the Island as the agreement stated would take place. While Tent City protocols state that all residents are screened for outstanding warrants and sex offender registration before admittance to the camp, they do not re-run the names of current residents every time the camp moves to a new community. One of the homeless campers selected to speak before the Council said 15 residents had already moved out as 29 have come in. He said that seven campers were permanently barred for violating the camp's code of conduct and four others were issued temporary bars for other reasons.

According to Tara Johnson, who spoke on behalf of the neighborhood after recently speaking with 24 surrounding households, residents checked 51 names of campers that signed affidavits in the lawsuit against the city and camp filed in July, and they found that 10 had been arrested while living in the camp.

"Some neighbors have concerns with the check-in process," Johnson said to the Council. "Ninety-three have not had recent checks as required by the agreement."

Johnson also said the investigative efforts of some neighbors were not to revile the homeless, but to calm the concerns some had brought forth. She said 22 of the 24 households she contacted had altered their daily routines since the camp moved in and were much more aware of their surroundings. She also said many complained of the cigarette smoke and were bothered by the increase in pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the neighborhood as camp visitors tend to be more of a nuisance than Tent City residents. The same number of households also said that they would never buy another home near a church after their experience with the public-input process of bringing the camp to First Hill and many were angry that the clergy association's decision not to host Tent City at a congregation with a daycare placed their own children's safety above the neighborhood's children.

"It's about a process to improve on," Johnson said of the neighborhood's efforts. "It's to help neighbors feel comfortable. We want to find a common ground to address these problems while going forward so we don't have to revisit this in the future."

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