Redmond church risks big fines
as it hosts homeless camp
Another in the Ministering to the Homeless series. This story is about a church that agreed to host one of the tent cities of Seattle for 90 days in defiance of huge fines if they do so. Tent cities are groups of homeless that have come together, formed their own government and operate out of tent cities, originally constructed wherever they could find room, often at the horror of their housed neighbors and landowners, sometimes started on city park land or vacant lots.
These groups set up tents and have collectively organized kitchens, toilet and shower areas, sanitation disposal and have established strict bylaws and rules of conduct. To get in, the current residents must approve newcomers before they can set up a tent. Jobs, such as security, food preparation, sanitation disposal, cleanup, and government are usually rotated among the residents. Some of the tent cities have Internet sites, formal applications and posted rules.
Some local governments have written laws banning the tent cities and have actively removed some of them (St Petersburg for example). The bans are limited to government property, parks, road right of ways, etc. and those on private property are subject to zoning rules and ordnances crafted to keep them out. They have been careful not to ban camping and thus the homeless have had a loophole to slip into.
Homeless activists have arranged to have various churches and private organizations to allow the tent cities to use their private property. The common tactic for the governments have been to limit the time that a private property can be used for camping to some period, such as 90 days. Permits are required for each campsite, some of the permits only for a few days, others longer, some must be renewed weekly. There is a sort of round robin of encampment movement from site to site every 90 days in this case.
By Sanjay Bhatt
Seattle Times staff reporter
PHOTO BY GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Tent City 4 residents, St. Jude parishioners and people who live nearby pitch in to help build Tent City 4 on Saturday on St. Jude property in Redmond. Here, they lay down wood pallets to keep the dampness away.
Defying an order from the city of Redmond, St. Jude Catholic Church welcomed Tent City 4, the Eastside’s traveling homeless encampment, to its grounds Saturday.
The city – which initially granted, then voided a permit for the encampment – answered the action with a threat to fine the church as much as $500 a day, five times what a senior city official had proposed last week. The church’s plan to host the homeless group for 90 days could now cost it more than $37,000.
Yet the mood outside the church was upbeat. Homeless people and church members alike unloaded wooden pallets and plywood from trucks, and set up tents. Campers’ belongings arrived in black trash bags labeled with silver duct tape. Volunteers drove Tent City residents to the church from their former site at another Catholic church, St. John Vianney, near Kirkland.
“These folks need a place to stay,” said the Rev. David Rogerson of St. Jude. “We’re not going to pull the rug out from under them at the last minute.”
If the fines are upheld, the church will pay them from donations rather than from parish funds, he said.
THIS is what ministering to the homeless means!