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Tuesday, May 04, 2004 - Page updated at 09:05 A.M.

Bothell residents vent over tent city for homeless

By Nick Perry
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

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Angry homeowners screamed and shouted last night during an emotional meeting called to discuss King County's plans to locate a temporary tent city for homeless people near Bothell.

Hundreds of people packed the Cedar Park Assembly of God campus gymnasium. Speakers were repeatedly interrupted with cheers, jeers and tirades as the meeting threatened to come apart.

Many nearby residents were upset they'd received little notice from the county that 100 campers plan to begin moving Thursday to "Tent City 4," in fields next to the Brickyard Road Park-and-Ride, 15530 Juanita-Woodinville Way N.E.

The plans come after County Executive Ron Sims agreed to let the homeless use the fields for up to 90 days while he works on finding a longer-term home.

Last night's meeting was called by tent-city organizers SHARE/WHEEL. About a dozen homeless people tried to describe the way their tent-city community is run. Several church leaders also spoke favorably about how a tent city can improve a community, in part by providing a source of labor and changing people's attitudes about charity and the homeless.

Tent City 4 would be in addition to Tent City 3, now at Seattle's Lake City Christian Church. Two earlier tent cities, created in the 1990s, have closed.

"Why is Tent City needed? Survival," said Renee Dewolf, a homeless woman who has been living at Tent City 3. "Last year 38 people died on the streets, and this year, so far, 10 people have died."

But many in the audience were in no mood to hear those arguments.

"Why the hell did King County take the steps it took and blindside all of us?" nearby resident Jack Devine asked, to deafening cheers. "You need to understand our lives are invested in our neighborhood. ... Very clearly, we are going to feel violated when the things we care for and love are threatened in any way."

Others neighbors raised concerns about property values, child safety, crime, hygiene and the environment. But some in the audience indicated they could welcome the tent city. Several Lakeside Middle School students, who had visited Tent City 3 near their school, said that camp was run well.

"I guess our question is really, 'What is everyone so afraid of?' " said Lakeside student Leo Haroon, 13.
 
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Leo Rhodes, another Tent City 3 resident, said the campers would soon move on. "After 90 days we are gone. We promise that to you," he said.

King County Councilwoman Carolyn Edmonds, whose district includes the park-and-ride lot, apologized at the meeting for misjudging public feeling on the issue. She said she should have worked harder to notify her community and also should have placed less trust in the process that allowed the tent city to be sited there.

"I was wrong," said Edmonds, D-Shoreline. "I will take your message back to the executive and my County Council colleagues."

County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, R-Woodinville, also spoke at the meeting. She said she opposed the idea of housing the tent city at the park-and-ride but felt powerless in the face of Sims' decision. She said she was working to find alternatives.

She suggested that homeless people could be housed, "in a surplus ship from Bangor that we could get over here ... out in the water where it's beautiful."

Earlier yesterday, Edmonds introduced a motion to the County Council to authorize a more-permanent tent city in unincorporated King County. The motion was referred to the council's labor, operations and technology committee.

Edmonds said it may be several weeks before the council acts on the motion.

Seattle Times reporter Keith Ervin contributed to this report.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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