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Tent City moves onto Mercer Island

Tent City 4 residents and volunteers set up camp in the Mercer Island United Methodist Church parking lot on Tuesday, Aug. 5. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Tent City 4 residents and volunteers set up camp in the Mercer Island United Methodist Church parking lot on Tuesday, Aug. 5.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Tent City residents and volunteers began setting up the roving camp of about 100 homeless men and women at First Hill's United Methodist Church early on Tuesday.

Several city officials, including Police Chief Ed Holmes, were present, while congregation members and volunteers assisted by providing lunch, serving water and coffee, and helping set up.

The night before, during the public hearing portion of a City Council meeting, many neighbors of the church continued voicing their disgust with the Council and city officials for allowing the camp to stay in their neighborhood by entering into a temporary-use agreement with the church and organization that operates the camp, SHARE/WHEEL. Several of the neighborhood residents urged the Council to place the camp on public property at City Hall until it could undergo a public hearing process that included creating an ordinance regarding temporary encampments on the Island.

"I am preparing for the invasion," said Islander Susan Redifer before she read a recent editorial published in The Seattle Times that was critical of Tent City. "Do the honorable thing and create an emergency ordinance that locates Tent City to City Hall, like Woodinville."

In response to the church's invitation to host the camp, some residents formed an organization called Mercer Island Citizens for a Fair Process and sued the city over its agreement and the public notification process surrounding Tent City. Last week, a county judge denied their request for a restraining order that would prevent the camp from coming to the Island until the trial took place. The trial is scheduled for December 2009.

During the Council meeting, a few Tent City residents and supportive Islanders expressed gratitude and thanks to the Council for its collaborative efforts. Beginning tonight, several community organizations and faith groups will serve dinner for the camp. The church plans to host the camp until November.

"I noticed that there are only seven vacancies of meals to be provided," said Islander Kristi Jamerson. "There are many individuals and groups in favor and willing to support [the camp]."

Despite the court ruling allowing the camp to be set up, Islander Tara Johnson said that the lawsuit against the city would continue because the city entered into the agreement illegally, breaking its own laws. She also asked the Council members why they were willing to gamble with the lives of church neighbors, as well as their careers. Police Chief Holmes had said that Tent City averages about six arrests during its three month stays in other communities and compared it to the Island's 350 annual arrests.

"It has been fairly routine and non-eventful," Holmes said of the descriptions that he has received from other Eastside police officers in cities that have hosted the camp.

However, two speakers — who said they are neighbors of religious institutions in other communities that have hosted Tent City — read police reports involving the campers and urged the Council to take further consideration of the neighborhood's safety. Numerous police reports from Kirkland and Issaquah have also been submitted to the city for the public record.

By noon on Tuesday under a sweltering sun, the sounds of men hammering plywood could be heard as residents installed the camp floor composed of wooden pallets. Four Honeybuckets were in place, the community tents were being propped up and the posts of the security fence were all visible as the encampment was being moved onto Mercer Island for the first time in its four-year history.

The city has created a specific Web page for Tent City and will post all police activity surrounding the camp along with updates. Police reports from neighboring communities are also posted. Go to www.mercergov.org/tentcity for more information.

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