Opinion

Island clergy want a place for Tent City 4

Fifteen months ago, the Mercer Island Clergy Association (MICA) began conversations with the City of Mercer Island about the probability that Tent City 4 (the Eastside Tent City) would eventually come to Mercer Island for a temporary stay of approximately 90 days. Over several meetings, we talked to city officials, including the city manager, the city attorney, and the police chief. We then broadened our meetings to include SHARE/WHEEL, one of the largest providers of adult shelter in Seattle and the supervisor of Tent City 4, leaders of Eastside congregations that have previously hosted Tent City 4, and the resident leaders of Tent City 4 themselves.

The result of these discussions was that the Clergy Association and city of Mercer Island representatives determined to work together cooperatively when and if Tent City 4 comes to Mercer Island.

In May 2006 and again last week, all the clergy present at the MICA meeting voted unanimously to invite Tent City 4 to come to Mercer Island sometime in the next 12 months. The clergy present and voting represented leadership of 10 of the 13 Mercer Island congregations (77 percent), and 10 of the 11 congregations active in the Clergy Association (91percent).

The MICA clergy also agreed to ask their respective congregations to participate together to support the needs of the Tent City residents during the approximately 90 days they will reside on Mercer Island. Our goal is to make this a very positive, interfaith, all-Island experience of hosting Tent City 4.

Much discussion will need to take place in our congregations and in public meetings before it is decided when Tent City 4 will come to Mercer Island, and where they will be located. City officials will be available to us for these discussions. Nine of our participating congregations each have the space required to host Tent City.

The purpose of this article is to inform the Mercer Island public about Tent City 4 coming to Mercer Island, and to begin a constructive discussion focused on what is best both for Mercer Island and for the residents of Tent City 4. Acknowledging that the coming of a Tent City always creates initial anxiety, and that there are some who always believe it is a bad idea, we would request that everyone approach the discussion in an informed and rational way. Let’s think this through together, learn together, decide together.

Who are the people who live in Tent City 4?

Not the chronically homeless. Not the mentally ill. Not criminals or petty thieves. Not drug users. Not panhandlers. Not neighborhood loiterers. Not sex offenders. Not people standing on traffic corners holding “need help” signs. Tent City 4 residents are situationally homeless. Most hold full- or part-time jobs. Some are participating in education programs. Children under 18 are not permitted in Tent City 4. They gather together in a community under rules of conduct with which many of us could not comply — no swearing, no derogatory comments, no drugs or alcohol, no littering, quiet hours between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. They live in community because being homeless alone is dangerous in our metropolitan area. They need our help.

And why is it a good idea for Mercer Island to host Tent City 4?

Because there is so much for us to learn from each other: about homelessness, about compassion for people not like us, about mutual respect, about community. Tent City residents have a better sense of community than the people in my neighborhood, and probably in yours.

They are not a danger to us, but our lack of hospitality would be a danger to them. We are not the ones who live in unsafe circumstances, without permanent shelter. To be homeless alone, without community, is to be in danger.

Because Mercer Island will be a better place, with a better reputation. Many in the communities that surround Mercer Island do not believe that we would ever allow a Tent City to come to our community. They think we are all about privilege and watching out only for ourselves. When we embrace and welcome Tent City 4, and as an all Island, interfaith community show real hospitality, people will have to rethink their image of us. And we may learn some new things about ourselves as well.

And because we will be living some of our basic values as people of various faiths and as humanitarians. We will be more true to our own best selves. And, by leading through example, we will teach our children to be compassionate, involved citizens of a broader community.

So let the discussion begin. In our faith communities and in our greater community, let us face our anxieties, learn what we can learn, live up to our values, decide together what to do. Perhaps we will be surprised that Tent City 4 coming to Mercer Island will be a mutually beneficial, very positive experience of life together in the human family.

One thing is for certain — they need us. And furthermore, we may need them more than we know.

Rev. Dale Sewall,

Co-senior pastor of Mercer Island Presbyterian Church,

for the Mercer Island Clergy Association.

Rev. Paul Fauske

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Jean Davis

Board member

First Church of Christ Scientist

Pastor Marlowe Shoop

Chaplin

Covenant Shores

Rev. Samuel Sawitski

Mercer Island Congregational Church

Rev. Dr. Marilyn Cromwell

Interim Associate Pastor

Emmanuel Episcopal Church

Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos

Mercer Island Covenant Church

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