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Mercer Island residents file lawsuit over Tent City homeless camp

First Hill residents and members of Tent City 4 listen to Rev. Leslie Ann Knight speak from the pulpit during a neighborhood information meeting at the United Methodist Church Wednesday night.   - J. Jacob Edel
First Hill residents and members of Tent City 4 listen to Rev. Leslie Ann Knight speak from the pulpit during a neighborhood information meeting at the United Methodist Church Wednesday night.
— image credit: J. Jacob Edel

A court hearing regarding a lawsuit filed last Thursday against Tent City coming to Mercer Island has been postponed. The hearing was previously scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. Monday July 14. The hearing has not yet been rescheduled.

The city was notified of the lawsuit last week. Two North-end Mercer Island residents are seeking a court injunction to prevent Tent City from coming to the Island. The suit came less than a day after dozens of neighbors and Island residents met a handful of their future homeless neighbors at the United Methodist Church, the proposed site for the camp.

The lawsuit contends the city did not provide a fair process and that city codes do not allow the City Council to authorize such temporary use agreements it recently entered with the church and camp. While other courts have upheld the Constitutional rights of religious institutions to house homeless encampments, the lawsuit lists several impacts of the camp upon the neighborhood. The plaintiffs demand that an ordinance regarding temporary encampments on Mercer Island be written and approved prior to hosting any Tent City-type of encampment.

According to Mercer Island's acting City Attorney Katie Knight, the city received a fax Thursday that indicated a group of Islanders were seeking a restraining order to prevent Tent City from coming to the Island.

"The group has not properly served the city, filed the documents or noted the motion," said Knight on Friday afternoon. "Procedurally, the group has failed to comply with proper legal process to get the injunction before the court. I continue to be confident in the city’s legal position regarding the temporary use agreement."

Knight also said there was no record the neighborhood group has established itself as a non-profit organization as the lawsuit states.

"They claim to be a Washington nonprofit organization, although there is no record at the state of such an organization."

"We hope the Court will prevent establishment of the camp until appropriate legislation is adopted in a public process," the lawsuit documents read.

On Wednesday night, the Methodist Church invited the community to learn more about its expected guests from Tent City, which was set to moving to the Island in early August.

About 170 Islanders, residents of Tent City and members of the clergy filled the pews as the church explained its reasoning behind inviting the homeless encampment and answered questions from the community. About 25 Islanders, including those named on the lawsuit, asked camp residents about their lives, what form of identification is required to check in, the various policies of the camp and whether or not the church had plans to invite Tent City back every year.

Speaking from the pulpit in front of a window overlooking the future site of the camp, Rev. Leslie Ann Knight of the Methodist Church, Dale Sewall of the Presbyterian Church and Bill Kirlin-Hackett, the director of the King County Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness, led the meeting. Also attending was the Island Chief of Police and two City Council members.

"It is our desire and our expectation that Tent City will be a positive experience for all of us," said Knight in her introduction.

Kirlin-Hackett explained that the meeting was not to verbally oppose or support the camp, but to meet some of the residents and learn how Tent City 4 operates. The clergy members reminded the neighbors that they were the guests of the denomination for the evening and instructed the crowd not to applaud comments or questions. Kirlin-Hackett said it was not a night for opinions but for questions.

"We know we have many opinions in this room," Knight said in her introduction, explaining the ground rules of the meeting.

The city has not yet responded to the notice as it was received by mid-afternoon Thursday and has not been formally served. United Methodist Church pastor Rev. Leslie Ann Knight also declined to comment.

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