Via Kirkland Reporter By RACHAEL HARRIS. Photo by SCOTT WALLIN
Living in a tent carries a plethora of challenges on a sunny day. Add freezing rain, chilly wind, and an icy layer of snow and most people ditch the thought faster than they can shout, “snow-pocalypse!”
However, for the residents of Tent City 4, who moved onto the parking lot of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Kirkland on Saturday, the rows of tents are a symbol of security, family, and new beginnings.
The homeless community has occupied church property on the Eastside for nearly eight years, and serves as a safe transitional home for those who want to stay off the streets and pursue a more stable life.
TC4 resident Eric has lived in the settlement for four months. He moved to Seattle from Texas roughly five months ago after the car he used to drive to work broke down. After living in a shelter for one week and on the streets for two, his friend told him about Tent City.
“I wanted to do something with my life,” he said. “I found this place, and I liked it, so I stayed.”
Residents follow a code of conduct, which includes a curfew and prohibits alcohol or drugs within the camp. For TC4 residents, these lifestyle standards are a worthwhile trade for a home, which includes a dry bed, bathrooms, a washing machine, and donated food.
“I’m secure here,” Eric said. “It’s better than the streets of Seattle, which are dangerous. Here, everyone respects you, and you respect them.”
Eric currently attends South Seattle Community College, where he plans to learn welding. Eventually, he hopes to earn a solid paycheck, move into an apartment, and buy a car.
“I know in a couple months I’m going to do better,” he said. “I appreciate being here, but I don’t want to be here forever.”
When he’s not at the camp, Eric spends time at the library and at school. He takes the bus into Seattle every day, and receives aid for school supplies and transportation.
Joe is the TC4 Move Master. He helps organize the transition from one church to the next, a job to which the 100 or so TC4 residents elected him during a weekly camp meeting. This is his third year with Tent City.
He hopes to move on soon, and describes the camp as a place for people to get on their feet.
“About a quarter of the people here have daily jobs, and another quarter are labor ready, so they go to work sources where they might get work for a day,” he said.
The desire for a fresh start in life was visible Saturday morning as residents and volunteers energetically scraped snow from ground zero of their new settlement.
The new location in Kirkland is ideal because there is easy access to grocery stores, though Joe prefers the scenery in Issaquah to that in Kirkland. TC4 changes locations every 90 days, and last occupied the Community Church of Issaquah.
This is the third time they have camped at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church. They plan to stay until April.
Volunteers from the church and surrounding neighborhoods helped assemble the camp on Saturday. They set wooden crates on the ground to keep moisture off the floor of the tents, banded the tents together, and hooked up water utilities, such as the washing machine.
“This is what we do. It’s our mission,” said Mary-Alyce Burleigh, Council president of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church. “It’s a benefit to ourselves because these folks have wisdom to share.”
Burleigh said that neighbors have become very accepting of Tent City’s presence.
“After the first time, people understand it’s no big deal,” she said. “In fact, it’s safer with Tent City here because there are more eyes on the community. They screen the Tent City members, and that’s more than you can say for the neighbor who moved into the home next door.”
Tent City 4 residents currently need the following items: coffee, tea, creamer, sugar, artificial sweeteners, paper bowls, plates and cups, sanitizing wipes, thermal underwear or sweats and polar fleece that can fit under clothing, warm socks, gloves/mittens, stocking caps, scarves, cold and flu meds, clean used winter clothing (from size small to XXXL for men and women).
To find out more about Tent City’s stay and to learn about volunteer opportunities, please call the church’s Tent City line at 425-823-2727, ext. 44, or email email@example.com