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Monday, August 31, 2015

A Living Magazine - Day 70 - A Visit to Tent City 3

I was happy to see it was 5:30 am when I could get downtown again and to a Starbuck's. I didn't want to go to the same one I left, since I was to meet my friend, Ellen, up by the Marriott I'd stayed in on 2nd Avenue.

She had offered to pick me up and drive me someplace. So, I had suggested the tent city I'd learned about the day before. She was up for that...

On 3rd Avenue, I think. It's a Key Bank, but
reminded me of my past album cover...

Waiting on the sidewalk for Starbuck's to open, I couldn't resist taking a picture of the sign that hangs in every business downtown...

While I drank my coffee, I processed some pictures and let my stuff dry off. I love that the backpack is so water resistant. It can take a lot of rain and not leak.

The time came to meet Ellen. She'd driven over from Fall City and showed up a few minutes early; which was great, since it had just started to rain again.

It was nice to be with someone who knew the city so well. She described where she grew up and the area in general. I find the region to be very complex because of the geography. She helped eliminate some of this confusion for me. The rain was letting up and sunshine made its way through the clouds.

When we reached Tent Camp 3 on 145th Street at the St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church, we found a place to park and got out. there were two women from the church bringing in food and we helped them and got to see the kitchen that provides Tuesdays meals for the tent city and visitors. They recently prepared and served a 200 person meal!

They showed us the pathway to the tent city...

The Tent City 3 Entrance.

Restroom area. The three regular stalls are unisex. There is a handicap
stall on the left and one extra stall exclusively for women.

[I will do my best to use the terminology I remember from our visit, but will substitute my own terms when need be.]

The information and reception tent.

At the information desk we let them know that we were interested in seeing the camp, and they called for a guide. A man I'd seen in some of the articles I'd read, Lantz Rowland, arrived and introduced himself. He led us to one of the common areas...

Lantz Rowland

Among books and at a meeting table we sat and enjoyed the opportunity of asking him questions. He was a sharp guy, knew all the history of all the tent cities in the area, and gave us a very well-reasoned opinion about what was happening here.

The concept spans more than two decades. In the beginning - as it were - a group of homeless people began meeting regularly to talk about how to join together. The idea of forming a kind of community where they could work as a single organization, without needing a strong leader was put into practice early on.

The organizations that oversee these tent projects are called SHARE (Seattle Housing and Resource Effort) and WHEEL (Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League). They have a very informative and interesting site: SHAREWHEEL.org

It is fascinating to see what kind of challenges they've faced over the years. Lantz told us quite a bit about the origin, and you can get a good idea from their site...

SHARE began with the Goodwill Gathering in 1990 helping displaced homeless people stay together and safe. SHARE established the first Tent City the day before Thanksgiving on November 24th, 1990. After 20 years of standing up for displaced people, we are a community of over 500 men and women, living together in 15 indoor shelters and two tent cities.  Along with our sister organization WHEEL (begun in 1993), we restore community, dignity, hope and self-respect to homeless people. 
Our self-managed community model is one of the first in the county.  Recently a citizen advisory panel appointment by Seattle Mayor McGinn recently cited one of SHARE’s indoor shelter models, the Bunkhouse, as an efficient and effective alternative to develop additional shelter capacity.  The 500 men and women of SHARE along with the Tent City and Shelter church hosts and other faith-based groups, together have stood up for the rights of homeless people to take care of themselves and each other. 
We are all very proud of our successes over the years. 
We are proud to contribute to the communities in which we reside – cleaning up the area we use, providing security in the neighborhoods we reside and other outside activities such as volunteering in local food banks.  We are reaching out to you, our community, to contribute to our 20th Anniversary fund drive, and help us enter the next year together and strong. 
Due to the economic recession, we will need to be prepared to provide shelter for even more people.  Costs have continued rise in our SHARE community over the years for vital needs such as: bus tickets, utilities, supplies, blankets, mailings and other expenses.  This funding appeal is a part of SHARE’s strategic and capacity building plan to strengthen our fund base.  We are taking responsibility to broaden our foundations, to meet our community’s mission to end homelessness in any way we can.
We greatly appreciate your assistance, past and present.  All proceeds that come to SHARE/WHEEL go directly to the needs of our community members.  Any donations are greatly appreciated.  Thank you for your friendship and support for these past 20 years! 
1990:  First SHARE action—the Goodwill Gathering at Myrtle Edwards Park.  For two weeks during the Goodwill Games, homeless people gathered in the park to stay together and safe.  While a big-top tent was pitched at Myrtle Edwards for the group’s daytime activities, they’d agreed with the City of Seattle not to sleep in the park at night, even though more nighttime shelter was desperately needed.  The SHARE group stayed together, planning their first major action; the November establishment of Tent City1 on mudflats south of the Kingdome. Within days, the camp grew to 166 members.  After negotiations with the City, on December 10th, 99 SHARE members moved into the abandoned METRO Bus Barn near Seattle Center, and SHARE’s first self-managed overflow shelter started at Immaculate Conception Church. 
1991:  The Bus Barn Shelter was scheduled to close at the end of March.  SHARE held a rally at the Bus Barn and continued negotiations with the City.  The Bus Barn remained open until the Aloha Inn was born—a self-managed transitional program on Aurora Avenue.  The Immaculate Conception self-managed overflow shelter stayed open, and other churches expressed interest in hosting SHARE self-managed shelters and eventually joined the SHARE shelter network.  The first of these were at Woodland Park United Methodist Church and St John United Lutheran Church, which still host SHARE shelters today. 
1992:  After a “Walk-to-our-outlying-shelters” campaign, SHARE convinced King County METRO to begin offering reduced-price bus tickets. 
1993:  WHEEL, the Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League, SHARE’s women-only partner organization, was born in January, campaigned for increased hours at day centers and shelters, and (with SHARE) opened the first women-only self-managed shelter, at Lakeview Free Methodist Church. 
1994:  SHARE opened a free, self-managed Storage Locker facility in the Glen Hotel.  SHARE did a sleepout in Pioneer Square to help homeless people without shelter stay together and safe, and to campaign for increased shelter space in Pioneer Square.  This was the birth of Safe Haven Shelter, which slept outdoors at 2nd and Yesler for several weeks, and then around the King County Administration Building for several months until a generous private property owner offered space in his yet-to-be-developed office building at 2nd and Columbia.  (Safe Haven has moved several times, in and around Pioneer Square.)  To support the operation of this larger shelter, SHARE started its SHARE2 Housing-for-Work program in a donated house. 
1997:  SHARE did a sleepout near the Capitol grounds in Olympia, to lobby State Legislators to agree to purchase/renovate the rundown Strand Helpers Building on MLK/Orcas for a Bunkhouse shelter (with night and day sleeping shifts). 
1998:  Newly-elected Mayor Schell sponsored a Housing Summit at Seattle Center in March; SHARE and WHEEL asked for and received permission to do a Shelter Summit, in tents, on Seattle Center grounds.  In June, SHARE/WHEEL set up Tent City2 on Beacon Hill near Jefferson Park.  The City opened the Municipal Building lobby shelter, but the SHARE/WHEEL group, arguing for a public-land encampment, moved the camp to the Jungle greenbelt near Jose Rizal Park.  The City bulldozed the camp and arrested 18 people; charges were later dropped. 
2000:  At the end of winter, on April 1st, SHARE/WHEEL’s Tent City3 began, on private land at MLK Way and S Charleston Street.  The City threatened property owners with fines; Tent City3 began an exodus and made two moves before finding sanctuary at All Saints Episcopal Church’s parking lot.  Later that spring St Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral hosted Tent City3, and in July, El Centro de la Raza agreed to host the camp for six months and apply together with SHARE/WHEEL for a permit.  El Centro accrued $17,000 in fines during the permit processing period, and the permit application was denied. 
2001:  The City Hearing Examiner upheld the Tent City3 permit denial.  Late in the year, 
King County Superior Court Judge Mahan overturned the permit denial. 
2002:  Newly-elected City Attorney Tom Carr, El Centro, and SHARE/WHEEL signed a Consent Decree permitting Tent City3 and setting forth its basic operating principles. 
2004:  SHARE/WHEEL’s Tent City4 began on the Eastside. 
2006:  SHARE/WHEEL opposed the Safe Harbors computerized tracking program on grounds of discrimination, right-to-privacy, and the impossibility of a peer-run organization facilitating such tracking.  A year-long campaign and the prospect of the complete closure of SHARE’s indoor shelter network and establishment of Tent Cities 5, 6 and 7 resulted in mediation, and eventually a settlement with the City to allow SHARE to do voluntary monthly surveys of shelter participants.  
2010:  SHARE/WHEEL now self-manages 15 indoor shelters, three SHARE2 Housing-for Work locations, two Tent Cities, and a Storage Locker program.
The way the group is self-managed at the camp level seemed quite fair and democratic to me. One example of this system is how security detail is rotated and participated in by the adults. Lantz explained that "security detail" often just means taking care of more mundane tasks, such as emptying trash. In this way, people earn credits. A different administrator is elected and adheres to a term limit of 30 days. 

The Code of Conduct is very strict, "requiring sobriety, nonviolence, cooperation and participation."

The cleanliness of the camp was quite apparent, and regular litter patrols each day took care of stray trash. They are so diligent with this that even when a group temporarily camped on public property once in an effort to address a policy issue, they left the area cleaner than it had been before. They keep their word, and I think Lantz implied that this ethical honesty has been making a real impression.

The logistics of a camp like this are challenging, but service to the camp is an aspect that everyone participates in.

So, why are there tent cities? King County's official shelters simply can't handle the number of homeless in the area. A solution had to be found. And, now SHARE and WHEEL seem to have come up with a model that works quite successfully. There are advantages that can not be obtained in any other way for homeless people...
Tent Cities provide their own trash removal and port-a-potties.  Bus tickets are provided to each participant each day so s/he can get to work or appointments.  There is a food preparation area. Volunteers bring hot meals most evenings to both Tent Cities.
Tent Cities are needed because there is not enough indoor shelter for all who need it in King County.  Tent Cities provide a safe place to leave your belongings, flexible hours for workers, and the ability for couples to stay together.
[Source: sharewheel.org.] 
They have had their hard times too. When asked if the tent city (whose agreement to stay at the Episcopal Church location end in only a couple of weeks) had a new place set up, Lantz was frank about the fact that they didn't. 

I asked if he just kind of knew that Tent Camp 3 (TC3) would always find a spot. He said he didn't really know, but believed that they would. If they had to though, they would find a piece of county land and settle there until a better arrangement - like they had with at the Pacific University Campus earlier this year, and now have at the Episcopal Church - came along. They have been moving, on average, every 90 days.

[Make a Donation to SHARE and WHEEL: Here.]

Finally he took us on a tour of the camp...

Books and other resources.

The shower.

A view done one of the lanes of tents. It was nice to see children there, safe and happy.

The computer room. I thought this was a great resource.
Except for being able to go to a local library,
computer work is impossible for most people living on the street.

This has been a picturesque and natural setting for TC3.

Camp bikes. Residents use credits to borrow bikes.

Having a sanitary environment is obviously major priority.

Could this tent city be a model for other counties, even other states? After seeing what they have achieved, the level of cooperation among residents, the organizational efficiency, and meeting the residents, my answer would be a resounding YES. There are many things to be learned from TC3's experience, politically and logistically. I understood that the designs for such a project shouldn't be left to outside engineers of any sort. Members truly know what designs work and don't work. Even the camp layout, when designed by people who have not lived in this community, falls short without their advice. Lantz had spend a very generous amount of time with us. We had to let him go.

We thanked him and headed back out, where we met Nick, who was on security duty. He was another true believer. His personal story included a lot of of pain and struggle. To find this oasis, for him, has been literally a life saver. The three of us agreed that the tent city system can have the positive aspects of a religion; community, support, service, etc., without the cult-brainwashing need to believe in some leader in order to be involved. It does very much seem like the best of all worlds for those who have lost their world. Maybe, just maybe, a new kind of appreciation is growing in this country?

From what I've experienced, the problem of the insecurity of homelessness is being solved though the hard work, sweat and dedication of people like Lantz and Nick. It is not necessarily the "homelessness" that is a problem, but the insecurity. For these folks to have found a way to not only give the security of shelter to those who might have been sleeping in the rain or in doorways, but also have a model that works in a sustainable way--providing that they have support from the public and King County (which is sometimes rare). But, in all fairness, the people who are given the opportunity for such security must have the self control to work with others in a semi-structured environment. It isn't asking a lot. Compromise can go a long way toward making a more stable and happy life, not just for an individual but for the community in which they participate, and ultimately the entire society.

This gave me a great deal of confidence in our progress toward removing "homelessness" as some kind of disease, stereotype, or meme, and replacing it with a dignity-concept; where every human being is simply living his/her life. A person's condition is not that person. Labeling and misrepresentation have degraded the image of the homeless, and it needs to stop, in my opinion.

Nick working his shift on Security at Tent City 3.

There was so much more to learn about, so much more to see, but the hour was getting later, and the clouds were rolling in again. It was time to move on. We headed back up the path to the parking lot...

By the time we were on the road, it was raining. We picked up some dinner and she said she had a tent if I wanted to go back and stay there until I needed to be back at King Street Station to catch my bus to Spokane on Monday morning. That sounded good to me. I wasn't looking forward to sleeping in the rain again.

We made our way back to her place in Fall City and talked for a long time until I headed out to the tent for the night. It poured rain all night, but the tent tarp held strong and, despite a bit of condensation on the tarp, things stayed dry. It was just what I needed, just when I needed it. I fell asleep pretty quickly and slept well all night.


  1. It looks like that place was more inspiring and enjoying than the one you wanted to go to in Tubac..... People make the difference...