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'Tent City' homeless encampment coming to Mercer Island in August

The Mercer Island United Methodist Church has announced its plans to host the roving homeless encampment known as Tent City 4 beginning this August. The church is located on a 1.5 acre lot in the First Hill neighborhood at 7070 S.E. 24th St. and plans to place the encampment in its lower parking lot.

According to the May newsletter of the Methodist Church, or MIUMC, the camp was invited to stay for about 90 days from Aug. 5 until early November. The invitation comes nearly a year after the Mercer Island Clergy Association announced its intent to host the camp at a church on the Island.

Bruce Thomas, the camp spokesperson, said everyone in the camp was pleased to hear the news.

“We’re all excited. It’s been a year since they said they were going to invite us, and we had to wait for a church to step up,” said Thomas. “They [the MIUMC] were really prepared. We were just delighted. We also met with folks from the city who are working to make this a reality.”

MIUMC pastor Leslie Ann Knight said many other congregations, both on the Island and in surrounding communities, were in support of the decision.

“The church is committed to being in a relationship with persons who are homeless,” said Knight. “The United Methodists made the invitation to SHARE/WHEEL, but we are not doing this alone. We are in a strong partnership with other congregations on the Island, and we will welcome broad community involvement. There will be 93 days when an evening meal will be needed.”

City officials confirmed the church’s announcement last week, stating it was in agreement with the church and SHARE/WHEEL, the organization that organizes the camp. The city’s temporary use agreement allows the church to use it’s parking lot to host the camp and formalizes the common guidelines already used by the camp. The camp is self-governing and follows a strict code of conduct. Tent City residents are screened for sexual convictions and for outstanding warrants, drugs and alcohol are prohibited and rules forbid loitering in the neighborhood. The camp provides around the clock security for the protection of its residents and neighbors.

While courts have backed the right of religious institutions to host such camps on their property, residents of several communities both in Seattle and the Eastside have protested the camp coming into their neighborhoods. Before the current camp in Seattle moved to Ballard, neighbors filled a community meeting angry they were not involved in the decision to invite the camp. Also, the Sand Point United Methodist Church decided not to invite the camp last March after a backlash from some neighbors. City officials have thoroughly discussed the Tent City issue with the Island’s faith community over the past two years in preparation of the camp coming to the Island, according to a statement issued from the city.

The Eastside camp serves up to 100 people and is currently at Temple B’Nai Torah in Bellevue for the second time. Tent City 4 has been in existence since May 2004 and has been located at numerous religious institutions in many communities. Several day cares and preschools have also neighbored Tent City 4 and have welcomed the camp back along with the neighboring faith organization.

Thomas said the camp today has about 97 residents and is needed today more than ever.

“The homeless situation is getting worse,” said Thomas, “The camp has never been this full for this long.”

The church and SHARE/WHEEL will be providing notice to property owners and residents within 600 feet of the and they plan to hold a community meeting at the host church this summer, possibly in early July, prior to the camps move-in date. Representatives from the camp will be present to answer questions from the public. The meeting date, time and location will be advertised in Reporter.

The press release states many of camp’s residents have jobs, but cannot afford housing. Others are looking for work, or are in job training. The camp must be near a bus stop so residents can get to work and services. A bus stop is located across the street from the church.

“Mercer Island so central to the entire Eastside and Seattle it couldn’t be any better,” said Thomas. “For the people working, there’s a park and ride right there at the church, and transportation is key since most of us don’t have cars. It’s perfect.”

More information about the camp coming to Mercer Island is available by the United Methodist Church, at (206) 232-3044 or www.miumc.org.

For FAQs about Tent City, go to www.anitraweb.org/homelessness/faqs/tentcities.html

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