Tent City 4 returns to local parish

Debra and Jack Exum work to secure a tarp over their tent to keep the rain out at Tent City 4, located at St. John Vianney Church in Finn Hill, on Nov. 4. - Katherine Ganter/Kirkland Reporter
Debra and Jack Exum work to secure a tarp over their tent to keep the rain out at Tent City 4, located at St. John Vianney Church in Finn Hill, on Nov. 4.
— image credit: Katherine Ganter/Kirkland Reporter

On a cold Sunday evening, Alvin Day and his service dog, Milo, walked the grounds of St. John Vianney Parish inside a colony of tents, checking to make sure that no fights broke out between the 91 residents of Tent City 4.

“Tarps make everything dry,” said Day, 42, pointing to tarps that covered more than 100 tents set up on the lawn of the church, where the encampment moved back for its third time on Nov. 1. “The tent is just the structure. Essentially what we’re making are igloos.”

An Elected Committee representative, Day is responsible for monitoring the camp’s code of conduct: no drugs, alcohol, violence, weapons or loitering in the neighborhood.

Three months ago, Day was “one step out from living on Metro,” the native South Dakotan recalled. He had stayed at a couple Seattle men’s shelters, but found it difficult to find a place that would allow him to bring Milo, his service dog for epilepsy.

More than 10 years ago, Day was a truck driver who sustained a head injury. He’s had his own place off and on for the past eight years, struggling to save disability money to pay child support for his 10-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter.

Last April, he hit rock bottom.

Addicted to alcohol and cocaine, he almost committed suicide after his mother died. He went through “the usual pit-falls of being an alcoholic and drug user. I was on the bus a couple of months.”

And then he found Tent City 4.

“Everyone has a history when they come here, but no one holds that against you,” he said, adding he hopes to have his own place again by February. “I get food; Milo gets food here. I’m blessed to be here.”

During the evening, Kirkland residents Virgil and Margaret Bauer pulled their car up alongside the camp in the South parking lot to drop off a food donation.

When the encampment came to Kirkland the first time several years ago, many residents resisted the idea – including the Bauers.

“We had security out patrolling and parents who were scared,” recalled Margaret, who works in the library at the nearby Sandburg Elementary School. Both she and Virgil were part of the patrol. “You’d be amazed. We found only one empty beer bottle and found out people here are not aggressive.”

But even though the couple likes to help the residents, Virgil is not shy about what he thinks of Tent City 4.

“I think it’s almost like throwing sand down a rat hole,” he said. “Some measure should be taken to move residents to something more permanent.”

For information, contact Tent City 4 at 206-618-3901.

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