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Sunday, February 13, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

Finn Hill homeless camp due to move

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Laura Stanger knows the children in her care have a newfound appreciation for a warm bed and a roof over their heads.

Even more importantly, so do many of their parents.

During the last three months, they have changed their preconceived notions about homelessness, said Stanger, who is the children's minister for St. John Mary Vianney Catholic Church on Finn Hill near Kirkland.

The church has hosted Tent City 4, a homeless encampment on the Eastside, since Nov. 20.

Last night, the church and community volunteers sat down for a potluck dinner with residents of tent city to say goodbye and reminisce over memories they've shared the past three months.

Getting to know the residents of tent city has helped them grow spiritually and emotionally, said church members. As the encampment moves on, it leaves behind a better understanding of their plight, they said.

Police calls in Woodinville and Finn Hill


Woodinville during Tent City 4's stay, Aug. 14 to Nov. 20

Disturbances: 34

Vandalism: 23

Auto theft: 20

Residential burglaries: 8

Aggravated assaults: 2

Indecent exposure: 2

Liquor/tobacco violations: 2

Woodinville one year before Tent City 4

Disturbances: 39

Vandalism: 29

Auto theft: 13

Residential burglaries: 4

Aggravated assaults: 3

Indecent exposure: 2

Liquor/tobacco violations: 11

Finn Hill during Tent City 4's stay, Nov. 20 to Feb. 10

Disturbances: 10

Vandalism: 12

Auto theft: 4

Residential burglaries: 12

Controlled-substance violation: 2

Assault, fourth degree: 5

Finn Hill one year before Tent City 4

Disturbance: 14

Vandalism: 8

Auto theft: 2

Residential burglaries: 4

Controlled-substance violation: 2

Assault, fourth degree: 3

Source: King County Sheriff's Office

"Part of this experience is that we have to confront our preconceived notions and prejudices that lay deep inside us," said Kathi Rowley, a pastoral assistant for the church. "We have benefited from their being here. We've gotten to know the residents personally and gotten to know their stories."

The encampment has just one week to find a new home before the permit expires that has allowed it to stay in an open field next to the church sanctuary.

Tent city leaders say three other churches in the Kirkland area are considering hosting them, but there is no formal invitation yet. The encampment has approached more than 60 churches on the Eastside, said John Nevers, a resident of Tent City 4.

Unfounded — and unfair — concerns by opponents about safety have made it nearly impossible for tent city to relocate, its residents say.

"No child, no neighbor, no one living in the vicinity of tent city has ever been harmed," said Don Goodwin, a community liaison and resident of Tent City 4. "Yet the opposition continues to harp on potential dangers. Virtually every time a church is just involved in talks to us or considers hosting us, the picketers show up."

King County Sheriff's Office and Bothell Police Department reports show that since Tent City 4 started on the Eastside in May, no major crimes or incidents have been reported. Police say that while calls for service may increase during a tent-city stay, crime statistics have remained virtually level at each of the past three locations. Many of the police calls come from the encampment itself because of its own strict self-policing, said King County Sheriff's Sgt. John Urquhart.

"That should not be held against them — they are enforcing their rules," Urquhart said. "I can tell you, if you took middle-class people and made them camp together and use portable toilets and tents, the calls for police service would go up."

Tent City 4 leaders also point out that other homeless encampments, such as Tent City 3, which moves around in the Seattle area and is currently at Seattle University, have not generated the same level of protests and concern.

That's because Tent City 3 has been in areas where homelessness is already an issue, said Norm Milliard, with King County Communities for Fair Process, which opposes the concept of tent cities. Milliard said though Tent City 4 has a good track record, his group is concerned about the potential for crime within any population of homeless people.

"I will admit, if you live in Seattle and you have homeless people in your front yard, putting them in a church may be a better thing," Milliard said. But "it's another thing" to introduce them to an area or put them in a place where there are no services, he said.

According to a Bothell Police Department report, crime did not go up in the surrounding area during Tent City 4's stay in that city from May 17 to Aug. 14.

But the report also recommends that tent city improve its security and screening for prospective residents. It also recommends that tent city better notify the public before it moves to a new site.

Opponents such as Cami Keyes of Finn Hill said many in that community have been pushing for improved community notification as well.

"My true hope was that the next community would have more time to prepare," Keyes said. "But that's not going to happen. It's going to be another chaotic emergency move."

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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