Neighbors' concerns about Kirkland Tent City have changed to homeless' safety, rather than threat to community

Lake Washington United Methodist Church pastor Kelly Dahlman-Oeth, center, participates in a discussion during a recent public meeting at the church for the upcoming stay of Tent City 4. Residents of the homeless encampment watch on from the stage. - Matt Phelps/Kirkland Reporter
Lake Washington United Methodist Church pastor Kelly Dahlman-Oeth, center, participates in a discussion during a recent public meeting at the church for the upcoming stay of Tent City 4. Residents of the homeless encampment watch on from the stage.
— image credit: Matt Phelps/Kirkland Reporter

Neighborhood reactions to Tent City 4 have changed a lot during the past five years.

A meeting March 30 at Kirkland's Lake Washington United Methodist Church, which is located on the border with Redmond at 7525 132nd Avenue Northeast, had more than twice as many city, church and Tent City tenants than neighborhood residents in attendance. This is in stark contrast to the first time the church hosted Tent City from May to August 2005.

"We have experience with Tent City," said Kirkland City Councilmember Dave Asher, who was in attendance along with councilmember Jessica Greenway. "This is the sixth time they have been here and we haven't had any problems. Their reputation and the experience of hosting them have demonstrated that the public's initial fears have not been realized."

Asher was apart of the council in 2005, when a meeting for permit application with the city drew nearly 160 people to the Kirkland City Council chambers. But recent stays in Kirkland have been relatively quiet with fewer and fewer people voicing concerns about the encampment.

The concerns about Tent City have actually made a 180-degree turn. Questions by the public in 2005 were of the safety for their neighbors, children and the community as a whole from Tent City residents. The only questions during the recent public meeting was for the safety of the temporary homeless residents: "Do you have problems with people, or kids, in the neighborhoods harassing the Tent City residents?"

Some minor incidents have recently occurred in Issaquah and when the encampment was hosted by Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Kirkland. But the incidents have been mainly of a taunting and a general juvenile nature. Each have been met with a call to police.

"By our code of conduct we are not allowed to respond," said a Tent City 4 tenant.

A Kirkland Police Department (KPD) spokesperson at the meeting sited that during Tent City 4's last three stays — a total of nine months in Kirkland — 4,200 calls were made to the Kirkland Police Department and just 30 had to do with Tent City from neighbors. Most of those 30 calls came from within Tent City 4 from organizers, checking new tenants to see if they had a criminal record. The KPD also told residents that there have been some recent burglaries in the area and to not jump to conclusions if there are more burglaries during the stay of the encampment. A spokesperson from the Redmond Police Department was also on hand.

The stay at the church will be from April 24-July 24, but it will be a lot more visible than the last time. The encampment will set up in the church's front yard this time, as opposed to in the back yard like they did in 2005. The move was made at the request of Tent City 4. The church hosts an independent preschool in the back yar" and Tent City 4 organizers did not want to disrupt its classes. The area in the front yard was also more conducive to Tent City 4's layout.

"It will be more visible," said Lake Washington United Methodist Church pastor Kelly Dahlman-Oeth. "People may be more bolstered to shout something. Instead, I hope that people will help out because it is such a good experience."

Dahlman-Oeth said that the church has been in contact with schools such as Rose Hill Elementary and Junior High to educate the students on the aspects of the encampment. Tent City 4 will house 100 people and only takes adults.

The effects of the organization on the residents' lives was felt by Asher personally. After helping Tent City 4 residents move in during a previous stay in Kirkland, the next day Asher was served his coffee at McDonalds in the morning and dinner at Wendy's by the same resident he helped move.

"That same person was working two jobs," said Asher. "They are just trying to stabilize and improve their situation."

Tent City 4 organizers and church staff reminded residents that they still need many volunteers and donations, including car rides to move Tent City residents to the new location, adult clothing donations and monetary donations for things such as bus tickets and new tents, among other things.

A notice will be sent out to residents that are within 500 feet of the encampment on April 19.

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