Opinion

SHARE should practice its democratic principles | Editorial

Lake Washington United Methodist Church Pastor Kelly Dahlman-Oeth, right, and volunteer supply coordinator for Tent City and church member Sandra Hunt, left, discuss what to do about a dispute between SHARE and Tent City residents on Nov. 15. - Matt Phelps/Kirkland Reporter
Lake Washington United Methodist Church Pastor Kelly Dahlman-Oeth, right, and volunteer supply coordinator for Tent City and church member Sandra Hunt, left, discuss what to do about a dispute between SHARE and Tent City residents on Nov. 15.
— image credit: Matt Phelps/Kirkland Reporter

Many Tent City 4 homeless residents at St. John Mary Vianney Catholic Church spoke loud and clear when they packed up their tents and sleeping bags and moved to Lake Washington United Methodist Church last Thursday.

The move was over a disagreement between the residents and SHARE/WHEEL, the group that operates the camp.

SHARE/WHEEL is a self-organized, democratic organization of homeless and formerly homeless individuals. For 22 years the group has worked to eradicate homelessness, educate the community, and empower homeless people.

Yet, many Tent City residents don’t feel empowered. They feel voiceless.

When an alleged sexual predator was recently arrested there, the residents and church’s pastor decided to require weekly sex offender background checks. However, SHARE/WHEEL stomped its feet, threatened to shut down the camp and chastised several residents for making the decision without the group’s approval.

Resident Mark Little says if residents agreed to the background checks, then SHARE should support that decision. He said it’s for the greater good of the community and if SHARE doesn’t think so, he “will not be a part of an institution that puts people in jeopardy like that.”

Resident James Gagne told the Reporter that SHARE aims to “exploit the homeless for their political agenda.”

Sandra Hunt, who has served as the camp’s supply coordinator since 2004, says “It’s a real power thing going on here.” She said SHARE and its consultant, Scott Morrow, is trying to “knuckle these people under … These people have the right to speak for themselves, but they are told not to speak to anyone.”

In fact, SHARE outlines democratic philosophies, but some of its practices have traditionally been undemocratic. Morrow noted on the group’s website, for example, that when a church host asks to meet with a Tent City leader, the leader should respond: “I’m sorry, I can’t discuss that. Call Scott, please.”

The group also touts right-to-privacy and says the decision for the weekly background checks is grounds for discrimination.

Yes, everyone has the right to privacy, to some degree. But in this case that right infringes on other human rights and SHARE shouldn’t have the final say-so in which right is more important.

SHARE should respect the community's human rights to safety and protection.

If a sex predator lurks amongst the community, people have the right to know. That’s why such predators are required to register in the first place, so others in the community are aware of where they live.

The group says imposing random sex offender checks on individuals because they live in a homeless encampment is “based on fear.” But it is not homeless individuals who people fear, it is sex offenders themselves - homeless or not.

Tent City residents should also be afforded the right of free speech and SHARE officials should listen to them. Should the residents have included SHARE in its decision to require the weekly background checks? Yes, although the group probably would have said no, based on its historical stance on the issue.

But the bigger question is why hasn’t SHARE asked Tent City residents, the church community and the community at large on whether weekly sex offender checks should be required? The group still has the matter to consider for the duration of Tent City’s stay at the church and has yet to invite the community to the decision-making table.

The decision should involve a public process that includes all parties. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the democratic thing to do.

 

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