Opinion

Separating fact from fiction in decision to host Tent City

Mayor Jim Pearman
Island Forum

On Aug. 1, Tent City 4 will be coming to Mercer Island for a three-month period. Due to the conversations and questions within some parts of our community, I would like to clarify a few factual points and add my personal perspective on the invitation to Tent City by the Mercer Island United Methodist Church.

During the past few years, your City Council and city staff have been reviewing the status of tent cities on the Eastside with the assumption that, one day, Tent City could be within our city limits. Our first objective was to separate fact from fiction as to the real effects that Tent City has had on the respective Eastside communities it has visited. The second and more important objective was to make sure our community was best served by developing a temporary use agreement that would protect the First Hill neighborhood’s rights and safety in direct proximity to the potential encampment.

Over the past few years, the city has been working with our local faith-based community to craft an agreement that would govern the operations of Tent City if it was to be invited to the Island by one of our religious organizations. It should be noted that the faith-based community has the Constitutional right to invite Tent City to Mercer Island without any permit or agreement. I would like to personally thank the MI Clergy Association for working in collaboration with the city in crafting the temporary use agreement, which was approved by the City Council on June 9. This agreement has incorporated the best practices and lessons learned from prior Eastside cities’ encampments, as well as adding specific interests of our community. I strongly believe we have succeeded in realizing both of these objectives.

To summarize: 1) The MI Faith community was under no obligation to partner with the city to develop an agreement to govern operating procedures of Tent City during their stay in our community — a partnership that the MI Clergy Association embraced; 2) The City Council and city staff have been working on the now ratified Temporary Use Agreement for the past few years, which has been a proactive effort; 3) A fact-based review of the real effects of each Tent City encampment has been completed by our police department; our police chief is very confident that Tent City presents no more risk to the community and adjacent neighborhood than any other visitors who may come to Mercer Island.

As a resident of Mercer Island for nearly 40 years, I would like to now share with you my personal reaction to Tent City. There are many dimensions of our community that have anchored me to live most of my life here. I have been an elementary student, a graduate of MIHS, a home owner, a father of two daughters and a community servant. While growing up here, I have learned that we are a community of individuals that has been blessed in so many ways, yet our community has never faltered to show our collective generosity to those in need and less fortunate than ourselves. This has been demonstrated time and time again in our votes to support regional programs that have little direct benefit to Mercer Islanders, as well as the myriad of social causes which our community leaders support as well as accept leadership roles in. The community that I am proud to call home is a community of givers, a community that relishes opportunities to roll up our collective sleeves to help worthy causes. As your representative on numerous regional boards and commissions, it saddens me when I hear others mischaracterize our community as a group of self-centered elitists — it’s an image that could not be further from the truth.

When I was recently advised of the potential for Tent City to come to Mercer Island, I did not have any understanding of the group or its mission. After lengthy staff review, and discussions with the mayors, Councilmembers and community leaders of the other Tent City communities, I have concluded that Tent City has been an overall positive experience for their respective communities. Nearly all of the other mayors have personally assisted in the preparation and serving of meals for the Tent City residents. In their words, “Tent City residents have been good neighbors.”

Some of our citizens have questioned the motives behind Tent City and have pointed out the negligible effect that Tent City will have on solving the homeless problem. I agree. I don’t believe Tent City will end homelessness. I do believe, however, that it might make a real impact on a few good people who have experienced difficult things in their lives. If we can help a person regain and strengthen a sense of dignity, won’t three months of our time be worth the effort? Furthermore, helping re-build the lives of others can only help to build character in our children, our families and in our community.

In closing, I would like to thank the numerous organizations that have already signed up to serve meals to the Tent City residents. According to Rev. Knight, Pastor of the United Methodist Church, all but 27 dinners have already been spoken for. It seems we have set a new standard in community support and generosity. This is the Mercer Island that I call home and am extremely proud to represent in the region.

Jim Pearman is the mayor of Mercer Island.

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