January 29, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 5

Feature

Into the wild

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

Crowded out of the suburbs, a homeless camp makes a move onto state land

Tent City 4 resident John, far left, heats his dinner while fellow resident Cynthia plays the guitar at Lake Sammamish State Park. The tent city, which has at least 30 residents, moved to the state park on Jan. 18, after a 90-day stay at a nearby church. The city of Sammamish is crafting legislation about tent encampments.

Photo by Ted Mase / Contributing Photographer

Brandy is a member of the Tent City 4 executive committee, which manages the camp and selects new locations. The camp can stay in Lake Sammamish State Park until early February.

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Prompted by competition for space and city laws limiting encampments, Tent City 4 has put down stakes in a state park for the first time in its decade-long history.

Tent City 4, which houses 30 to 60 people on various Eastside church properties, moved into Lake Sammamish State Park on Jan. 18 after a 90-day stay at nearby Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Sammamish.

Tent City 4 is paying $2 per person per night to use the Hans Jensen group campground until the encampment’s organizers can find another place to stay. Virginia Painter, spokesperson for Washington State Parks, said the campers are welcome.

“Our group camps are available to any and all,” Painter said. “We don’t discriminate.”

There are now two homeless encampments on the Eastside. In 2012, a number of Tent City 4 residents left to start a similar group, Camp Unity. Since then, it’s become more difficult for both of them to find space, said Brandy, a Tent City 4 resident who sits on the encampment’s executive committee, which manages the camp and finds new locations.

State law allows churches to host encampments, but cities can set some limitations. Encampments usually have to acquire city permits to take up residence in the city. Some cities allow only one encampment to stay in the city per calendar year.

“Most cities are like that,” Brandy said.

The competition has forced Tent City 4 to start looking for space farther afield. Until October 2013, Sammamish had never hosted a homeless camp. The suburban city of 50,000 people had no regulations in its code to allow tent encampments, so city officials drafted a 100-page, temporary-use permit to allow the encampment to stay at Mary, Queen of Peace for 60 days beginning Oct. 18. When that time was up, the city allowed the camp to extend its stay another 30 days.

In January, Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in Sammamish invited the tent city to move onto its property, but rescinded the offer just as the Sammamish City Council put a 60-day moratorium on tent encampments.

The city needed time to establish regulations to allow tent encampments in the future without drawing up new 100-page temporary-use permits, said Kamuron Gurol, assistant city manager of Sammamish.

Sammamish city officials intend to establish rules that would give neighborhoods notice when a tent encampment is coming. Sammamish had little time for public input when Tent City 4 arrived in October, Gurol said.

“We did our best given very little notice,” he said, adding that permanent city regulations would make the process easier and more consistent in the future.

Tent City 4 residents learned they would not be able to stay in the city about a week before the end of their stay at Mary, Queen of Peace. They found refuge in the northeast corner of the 500-acre state park, in an area designed for car campers that provides toilets, camping stoves and a covered picnic area.

It’s a great place for residents to stay for now, Brandy said: “They love it here.”

Their stay ends in early February, and after that, campers have nowhere to go until June, when they have arranged to stay at Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue, she said.

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