Tents in our backyard

Along with the benefits of living in the very center of a prosperous and desirable metropolitan area comes social responsibility. Yet, the Mercer Island Clergy Association’s plans to bring the homeless encampment of Tent City 4 to a church on the Island for 90 days is sure to make us a bit uncomfortable in meeting that responsibility. Even if we wish to end homelessness, offering our own backyard is another concept entirely. Concerns about safety and myths about the homeless will no doubt cause a good deal of controversy. It is a proposal that has the potential to bring out the very best in us or the very worst.

The city, long involved in issues regarding housing and social services through its Youth and Family Services Department, is uniquely well-suited to help the the Island accommodate the camp. Given all of its other obligations, the city may have considered turning down the request. But both the Washington state and United States constitutions give clergy and their congregations the right to practice their religious beliefs — and those beliefs include helping the needy by giving them a place to live, if only temporarily. Mindful of the protracted and costly legal battles undertaken by cities such as Bellevue, Bothell and Woodinville to prevent homeless encampments, city officials have decided to take a more productive tact. They have been working with the clergy and Tent City organizers to work out the details of having a Tent City here.

As the Rev. Paul Fauske said, some people will view the coming of Tent City 4 as a threat, while others will see it as an opportunity. It will be an opportunity to help out those in need, educate ourselves and our children about who these people are and what they represent. We can show the greater community that we care about those less fortunate than ourselves.

Having a Tent City at a Mercer Island church for a time certainly will not end homelessness. But it is a start, a step — something we can do.

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