Tent City 4 moves back to St. Jude Parish in Redmond
By ANDY NYSTROM
Redmond Reporter Editor
February 8, 2013 · 11:12 AM
Despite problems at former Kirkland site, all’s well in Redmond, homeless residents and police say
Art Gonzales has experienced good times — and the toughest situations.
He worked for equipment rental companies for seven years in Lake City and Bothell before the economy burst and he lost his job.
“First thing that happened, I couldn’t pay my car payment, I couldn’t pay my one-bedroom apartment. It’s a pride thing. I wasn’t gonna run around and tell my friends, ‘I’m gonna be homeless,’ so I just kept it to myself,” said Gonzales, who stayed at Tent City 4, “built myself back up, got me a job, moved out within 90 days — and, again, that company (a millwork business in Woodinville) shut down.”
Gonzales was again minus funds to pay the rent on his new apartment and he headed back to Tent City 4.
These days, the 44-year-old mans the front desk as camp adviser at the latest Tent City 4 location at St. Jude Parish at 10526 166th Ave. N.E. in Redmond. This is the fourth time in recent years that the homeless camp — which is sponsored and managed by SHARE/WHEEL (Seattle Housing and Resource Efforts and Women’s Housing, Equality, and Enhancement League) — has set up in Redmond at St. Jude. SHARE/WHEEL established the first Tent City in 1990.
Tent City 4 opened here on Jan. 13 and will stay for 90 days. It is a self-operated and self-governed, democratic society, and the residents hold weekly meetings and have a strict code of conduct for things such as drugs, alcohol and violence.
Presently, about 40 people are staying at the camp, 30 men and 10 women, Gonzales said.
“Everything is going great. We’ve been accepted very well and warmly from the community. (There are) no problems or anything with the camp,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales noted that many of the residents have jobs and “try to save up their pennies so they can get an apartment, rent a room, get back into mainstream society instead of living in the tent.”
In order to ensure safety for Tent City 4 residents and community members living nearby, camp residents are subject to a criminal-background check and sex-offender check, Gonzales and a SHARE spokesperson said.
On Nov. 8, 2012, a man residing at Tent City 4 in Kirkland was charged with raping a child in Tacoma before he moved to the homeless encampment at St. John Mary Vianney Catholic Church last October.
Tent City 4 in Kirkland faced another problem during that time frame when a group of residents left amidst a dispute between residents and SHARE. The split was the result of a decision that the camp’s leadership made without SHARE’s approval to require random weekly criminal background checks on residents. As a result, SHARE barred nine residents from the camp.
Gonzales said that everything is back on track with the move to Redmond. Tent City 4’s leadership is solid, he added.
So is Tent City’s relationship with the St. Jude Parish community, according to Gonzales and Jerry Kuntz, parish administrator.
“The father from the church and all the parishioners and everybody have treated us with kindness. They let us have our meetings inside,” Gonzales said.
“We’re happy to have them here again,” said Kuntz, who added that the parish provides some food for the residents, a shower hook up for gray water and an electrical hook up for some of their power needs.
When Tent City first set up at St. Jude about five years ago, some parishioners wondered why church officials were allowing homeless people to stay there.
Kuntz said, “it was fear of the unknown” and concern that Tent City occupants might be putting churchgoers and nearby residents in danger. He’s had many discussions with people about why this is the right thing for the parish to do: “We feel it’s imperative in the Gospel to take care of the poor.”
Kuntz and Redmond Police Department Lt. Charlie Gorman said there have been no problems since Tent City 4 set up in January.
“Everything seems to be running OK,” said Gorman. “We’ve got a good working relationship between our city planners, us and the Tent City administrators. We’re not anticipating any issues.”
Redmond resident Emily Papel has lived with her family across from Tent City 4 on 165th Place Northeast for five years and said that she hasn’t experienced any trouble with the campers.
She noted that it was a little disconcerting this time around because of the Kirkland arrest. The family is also trying to sell their house, so they don’t want potential buyers to be wary of the neighborhood.
“It does not bother us. In fact, the police presence is heightened, we’ve got less speeders, which is great for our kids because they walk to school still,” Papel said. “Generally, we feel safe and we’re happy that people have a warm place to stay.”
Papel added that residents get a Tent City flier on their doorsteps about 15 days before the encampment sets up. There’s also a community meeting for residents to voice their opinions about the scenario.
“Some of the neighbors are a lot less cool with it than we are, so you do get a lot of disgruntled people coming and saying ‘Let’s go rally at the meeting’ or something,” she said.
While sitting at the front desk, Gonzales said there’s nothing for people to worry about. Tent City 4 is inhabited by people who are trying to put their lives back together after falling on hard times.
When they’re not working, they watch TV in the common area and check their email on the shared computer. For those out of work, they scour the job listings on Internet sites, hoping for something to come through for them.
Their kitchen contains food that is donated by community members, and of course there are the meals that the church often provides.
Gonzales said each camper gets six blankets to help conquer the cold during the winter, but they can always use more.
Presently, Gonzales — who was married for 10 years and has a 16-year-old daughter in Bothell — is looking for a job so he can get back on his feet again.
“I don’t have any money, but I can put forth my time to help out,” he said about working the front desk and discussing the need for Tent City 4 with community members.
“I know that within a year, I’m not gonna be homeless, I’m gonna be back having my own apartment,” Gonzales said. “There’s people who are like, ‘Well, that’s never gonna happen to me.’ Well, everybody that sits in a house, watching their TV — it could happen to them. It’s a life-changing experience.
“As we all know, once you get knocked down, you’ve still got to pick yourself up and keep going. It’s how life is,” he added. “It’s made me stronger and more confident. I already did it once, I can just do it again.”
Contact Redmond Reporter Editor Andy Nystrom at email@example.com or 425-867-0353, ext. 5050.