Tent City settles in on Mercer Island

Tent City is here. Residents and volunteers set up the roving encampment at the Island’s United Methodist Church on First Hill on Tuesday while some neighbors tracked activities during the first few nights.

  • Tuesday, September 9, 2008 2:57pm
  • News
Tent City 4 residents and volunteers set up camp in the Mercer Island United Methodist Church parking lot on Tuesday

Tent City 4 residents and volunteers set up camp in the Mercer Island United Methodist Church parking lot on Tuesday

Tent City is here.

Residents and volunteers set up the roving encampment at the Island’s United Methodist Church on First Hill on Tuesday while some neighbors tracked activities during the first few nights.

On Friday, the United Methodist Church’s pastor, Rev. Leslie Ann Knight, said the camp was still getting settled and “doing great” despite initial concerns from some neighbors and a couple of calls to the police.

“They’re just settling in, but there’s a good feeling and a relaxed feeling,” said Knight. “I think it will begin to feel pretty natural pretty soon, and it is our hope and our prayer that [the concerns] will die down.”

Knight also said she expects the community to gradually accept the camp as something beneficial.

“Some people have a hard opposition to the camp, but others are watching and waiting to see how things go,” said Knight. “And I think experience will show them that this is something connected to the community a lot more than people expected.”

On the camp’s move-in day last Tuesday, several city officials, including Police Chief Ed Holmes, were present, while congregation members and volunteers assisted with providing lunch, serving water and coffee, and helping set up.

According to the police log available on the city’s Web site, a couple of late night calls to police indicated that the neighborhood was keeping a close eye on the camp. Two calls that came in on the second night of the camp’s stay on the Island reported a disturbance and what one caller thought was suspicious activity. Police determined that the disturbance was a barbecue at a nearby home on 71st Avenue S.E., and the suspicious activity was only the camp’s night security crew patrolling the church property.

The police log also showed that a woman had been arrested outside the camp on Tuesday, after a car searching for the church contacted an Island officer, who determined one of the occupants had violated a no-contact order with another passenger.

During the public hearing portion of the City Council meeting last Monday night, many church neighbors continued voicing their displeasure with the Council and city officials for allowing the camp to stay in their neighborhood. Several of the neighborhood residents urged the Council to place the camp on public property at City Hall until it could undergo a public hearing process involved with creating an ordinance regarding temporary encampments on the Island.

“I am preparing for the invasion,” said Islander Susan Redifer before she read a recent editorial published in The Seattle Times that was critical of Tent City. “Do the honorable thing and create an emergency ordinance that locates Tent City to City Hall, like Woodinville.”

Some residents formed an organization called Mercer Island Citizens for a Fair Process and sued the city over its agreement and the public notification process involving Tent City. Two weeks ago, a county judge denied their request for a restraining order that would prevent the camp from coming to the Island until the trial took place. The trial is scheduled for December 2009.

Despite the ruling, Islander Tara Johnson said that the fight in court would go on because the city entered into the agreement illegally, breaking its own laws.

Police Chief Holmes said Tent City only averaged about six arrests during its three-month stays in other communities, and he compared it to the Island’s 350 annual arrests.

“It has been fairly routine and non-eventful,” Holmes said of the descriptions he has received from police officers in Eastside cities that have hosted the camp.

During the Council meeting, a few Tent City residents and supportive Islanders expressed gratitude to the Council for its collaborative efforts.

“I noticed that there are only seven vacancies of meals to be provided,” said Islander Kristi Jamerson. “There are many individuals and groups in favor and willing to support [the camp].”

Rev. Knight said on Friday that volunteers had signed up to serve dinner every night of the camp’s three-month stay.

“They are saying this is the first time ever we’ve had meals covered for the entire three months,” Knight said.

The city has created a specific Web page for Tent City and is posting all police activity surrounding the camp, in addition to news updates. Police reports from neighboring communities are also available.

Go to www.mercergov.org/tentcity for more information.

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