Homeless 'myth busters' to return to Redmond, pending city approval: St. Jude's slated to host Tent City 4
March 10, 2011 · Updated 3:53 PM
Bruce Thomas and his group of homeless “myth busters” are returning to Redmond, pending city approval.
Thomas, a homeless man and camp advisor for Tent City 4, along with Dave Rogerson, pastor at St. Jude Catholic Church on Education Hill, filed for a temporary-use permit with the City of Redmond last week to bring the homeless encampment back to the church property for the third time in five years.
Tent City 4, currently at the Kirkland Congregational Church, will move to the grassy grounds behind St. Jude’s, located at 10526 166th Ave NE, April 23 and stay for approximately 90 days — if the permit is approved — according to Thomas, who has been a Tent City 4 resident since it was created in 2004.
“As always when we go to a neighborhood for the first time, frankly they are afraid of us, they don’t know us,” Thomas said referring to the surrounding community. “This will be our third time coming back to Redmond. Since we have been here before, people see that we are just plain, regular folks trying to get by.”
Thomas said many of the nearly 100 members of the Tent City 4, which is governed and operated by the residents, have jobs and have a true desire and work ethic to get their life back on track. Often times, residents help out in the community where they are staying. For example, several residents helped pick up trash in Kirkland on a recent weekend.
“We’re mythbusters,” he said. “We want to break the stereotypes people have about us. We are part of the community.”
But Tent City 4’s stay is never permanent, instead the encampment travels from community to community, usually hosted by a neighborhood church. Temporary-use permits, covering land uses for less than six months, are issued by the city’s planning director, Rob Odle, following a review of the applicable criteria and public comments.
The Tent City 4 application went before the city’s technical review committee on Wednesday, according to Steven Fischer, the city’s lead planner for the permit. From there the city will formulate a recommendation, hold a public meeting to address concerns by the community and then issue a decision, Fischer said. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. April 4 at Redmond Junior High School, 10055 166th Ave. NE.
Tent City 4 provides a “safe housing option” for the homeless, said Redmond Mayor John Marchione, who added that the city will take the proper measures to make sure Tent City 4 will have a low impact on the neighborhood and not be a disturbance or public health hazard.
AN ORGANIZED COMMUNITY
Thomas, who works as a landscaper and does other odd jobs, said he lost his wife and children to a drunk driver in Florida 22 years ago. These days, he has helped create a new family at Tent City 4, where residents must obey a strict code of conduct and assist with work such as cleaning and security.
A tour of Tent City 4 reveals that the encampment is built around organization, structure and teamwork and quickly sheds the stereotype of it being a community filled with drugs, alcohol and violence. These, along with intimidation and ethnic or homophobic remarks, are all violations of the code of conduct — and result in a lifetime ban from Tent City 4.
“In other words, you have to play with others,” Thomas said.
Tent City 4 is sponsored by the Seattle Housing and Resources Effort (SHARE) and Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL). Dumpsters, portable toilets and a shower room, paid for by SHARE/WHEEL through community donations, are provided to address sanitation concerns. In order to control access to the encampment, there is only one entry/exit to the camp that is guarded at all times by one of the residents.
In addition, SHARE/WHEEL — again through donations — provides bus passes for all the residents so they can go search for jobs or go to a job each day.
“It’s very organized and residents love this place,” Thomas said. “It’s been very helpful to the residents. They have a safe place to sleep and they build relationships while they are here.”
Thomas said often times residents network with other residents for jobs or pool their money together so they can rent a house or apartment of their own.
“Nobody really wants to be here, they want to get a job and get a place of their own,” Thomas said. “But we can’t quit doing this (Tent City 4). When we quit, people die.”
About two weeks ago, Richard Lombard, homeless and jobless, was so desperate to find a place to sleep, he called the Kirkland police and asked to be taken to jail.
The police declined his request and told him about Tent City 4.
“I thought at first, it was a bunch of hobos living in tents,” he said.
But once he arrived, he realized, it was a safe haven for homeless with the kind of camaraderie you can’t find under a freeway or an overnight shelter.
“This place is fantastic,” he said. “The camaraderie is great and it’s someplace I can go. It’s definitely a lifesaver.”
Tent City 4 features a security tent that has two computers, used only for job searches and job-related duties. There is also a kitchen tent that stores all the food, which is donated by the community. Residents can relax in the commons areas that has several chairs, a television with donated movies along with a dining table. One hot meal a day is served to the residents by community members. If the host church has a water hookup, the encampment also has a washer and dryer and an enclosed shower room. Thomas said there is water available at St. Jude’s. The electricity and plumbing is done by the residents up to code by the city where they are staying, Thomas said.
Smoking is allowed within the encampment, but not within the tents. There are fire extinguishers — donated by the Redmond Fire Department when Tent City 4 was in Redmond in 2009 — in case of an emergency.
Essentially, it is a temporary, traveling apartment complex that can be a lifesaver for many of its residents, Thomas said.
For Robin Humes, who arrived at the encampment last Friday, it is “truly a safe haven.”
“I’m searching for a job now and I can leave the few possessions I have here,” Humes said. “I’m not hauling them around, looking like a bag lady. I can take a shower. I can do my laundry. They might not be fancy, but at least my clothes are clean. So when I go to look for work, I’m presentable. This place really helps a lot of people who need it. I’m glad it’s here.”
CONCERNS LAID TO REST
Before Tent City 4 arrived at St. Jude’s in 2007, there was strong opposition from several neighbors on Education Hill, who feared the encampment would attract crime and endanger public health. However, Redmond police described the encampment’s stay as uneventful. Then in 2009 when the encampment returned to St. Jude’s, there was very little opposition from neighbors. In fact, none of the 23 police service calls to the encampment during the three-month stay in 2009 “raised any red flags,” according to Jim Bove, community outreach facilitator for the Redmond Police Department (RPD).
Redmond police will handle calls related to Tent City 4 the same as they would respond to calls from any other city neighborhood, ranking them in order of urgency.
“We honestly don’t have many issues with Tent City,” Bove said. “They have been doing it for so long, it’s self-governing, and they have tight restrictions when people check in. It has been a success when Redmond hosted in the past and we hope this one will prove no different.”
As was the case during Tent City 4’s last visit to St. Jude’s in 2009, all new residents will undergo warrant and sex offender checks. Violators will be denied entrance to the encampment and reported to the RPD. Eight of the 23 police calls to Tent City 4 in 2009 were for outstanding warrants.
Rogerson, the pastor of St. Jude’s, said he believes the neighbors’ perception of Tent City 4 has changed since the encampment’s first visit in 2007.
“At first, there was some element of fear,” Rogerson said. “It was unknown. But now as people become familiar with it, they are realizing that these folks are just them, trying to get by during tough times. I think the community is much more accepting and understanding.”
“In 2009, city staff received a number of telephone calls from citizens requesting information on how they could assist (provide food or donations) to the homeless. Overall, the community has been very welcoming to Tent City.”
If you would like to donate items or food to Tent City 4, call (206) 618-3901.