Creating a Community of Care for Tent City 5

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We have come a long way since Tent City Five (TC5) first came to Interbay two years ago. I am deeply grateful to the compassionate Queen Anne, Magnolia, and Interbay residents and businesses who have built this caring community together.

On Wednesday, September 6, I attended a meeting at the Magnolia Community Center hosted jointly by the Port and the City of Seattle to discuss the proposal to re-locate Tent City 5 to the Port’s Tsubota Steel Property, located on 15th Avenue West, just north of the Magnolia Bridge. TC5’s original lease with the City on Bertona near Dravus (West Bertona St and 17th Ave West) will be up this November.

An estimated 100 neighbors, community leaders, TC5 residents, and Port and City staff gathered to discuss their feelings for the residents of the current Tent City 5 and their vision for the future. Indeed, a handful of Magnolia neighbors asked for “relief” from the impacts of unsanctioned camping and in their neighborhoods. But the clear majority of speakers spoke in support of finding another site in the Interbay area for the residents of TC5.

I would like to say thank you to those who attended the meeting as well as to those who have contacted my office. I especially want to recognize Pastor Marilyn Cornwell of the Church of the Ascension and other faith leaders who have joined her efforts. Pastor Cornwell has served on the TC5 Community Advisory Committee for nearly two years. She and her colleagues have organized meals and offered friendship to the community.  Carolyn White delivered Pastor Cornwell’s written comments, stating that supporting those experiencing homelessness is “a moral and spiritual imperative.”

Congratulations and thanks are also in order to members of the District 7 Neighborhood Action Coalition (NAC) who spoke about their positive relationships and support for TC5. Several NAC members described the experiences they have had getting to know the residents, from joining litter-busting walks, to sharing stories over donated meals, to ensuring safety for each other in the community. I commend their outreach and appreciate their strong community support for the residents of TC5.

At this meeting, the Port and City solicited community feedback on the proposed Tsubota Steel site. This property is not a final decision – it is another option the City will consider. Port Commissioners Stephanie Bowman and Tom Albro described the Port’s commitment to working with the City and County to address our declared State of Emergency. This is a prime example of governments working together to provide critical services to the community, and I am proud to see this collaboration leading to fruitful results.

Along with other city leaders, I spoke about the ongoing need for managed encampments in our City, and how Tent Cities have been a key tool to address the need for 24/7 shelter space. Per All Home King County’s most recent data, 3,857 people were unsheltered in Seattle in 2017.

Sharon Lee, Executive Director of the Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI) described the plans to build Tiny Homes at this location. Volunteers have built dozens of these tiny homes which can be built and delivered for $2400 each (for more information, see LIHI’s page here).

I have been working with managed encampments for over a decade, going back to my days in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. I drafted some of the first legislation allowing encampments on property throughout King County owned by faith organizations.  I have seen how Tent Cities are organized and managed, and know they offer a step in the right direction.  I also know that nearly every organization that has sponsored a Tent City says they were surprised with how potent the experience was, creating deep and lasting community ties.  Fear is reduced when we get to know people by name.

Most of our Tent Cities, including TC5, are organized by SHARE/WHEEL, a local non-profit advocating for the safety and survival of people who are homeless in our region. Like other managed encampments, residents use the term “organic democracy” to describe their organizing structure (see my thoughts from that visit on my blog here). Leaders organize 24-hour security for the encampment. Residents have regular responsibilities including litter pick up around the encampment and adjoining neighborhoods. Residents provide extra eyes for neighborhood safety and report illegal activity to the Seattle Police Department. As one TC5 leader said, “we are a ‘hand up’ organization, not a ‘hand out.’” TC5 empowers each resident to get back on their feet and to look for permanent housing options.  Only a handful of people who were there at the beginning are there now. Significant numbers have moved into permanent housing with the help of LIHI’s case managers (for a deeper dive on results, see the Human Services Department’s “Permitted Encampment Evaluation,” June 28, 2017).

In my recent post I discussed my budget priorities for 2018, which include increasing targeted funding for permanent housing and needed human services for people who are homeless. I am pleased to work shoulder to shoulder with the Port, King County, SHARE, LIHI, TC5, and Magnolia and Queen Anne neighbors to find real solutions to our regional problems.

Thank you for joining me in building this compassionate city.