Some wore "I (heart) Tent City" buttons, while others wore orange ribbons signifying their belief the Kirkland City Council wasn't listening...

Some wore “I (heart) Tent City” buttons, while others wore orange ribbons signifying their belief the Kirkland City Council wasn’t listening to their concerns about a homeless encampment.

More than 160 people packed the council chambers last night for a public hearing on a proposed ordinance aimed at eliminating or loosening restrictions on the tent city in Kirkland.

“I’m pretty sure I’m what you would consider a child,” Vanessa Kichline, 15, told the council. “And I serve meals at tent city. I feel safer at tent city than I do in my own neighborhood. It makes me proud to live in Kirkland.”

In the end, the City Council voted unanimously before midnight to approve an interim ordinance that will allow a sponsor to host a homeless encampment for up to 90 days; currently, one sponsor may host the encampment for 60 days once a year. The interim ordinance, which would be in effect for six months, also will allow more than one sponsor to host the encampment, known as Tent City 4, in a year.

    Most Read Stories

“I believe this change will make it legal to host multiple rotating tent-city encampments year-round in Kirkland,” said Michelle Jaff, a Kirkland resident. “I worry about the effects of endemic substance abuse, mental-health problems and public-health concerns, like TB and hepatitis. … ”

Tent City 4 now is at Kirkland Congregational United Church of Christ, across the street from Kirkland City Hall. The roving Eastside homeless encampment previously has been in Bothell, Woodinville and Finn Hill near Kirkland.

The public hearing continued late into the night, with more than 63 people signed up to speak. Tent-city supporters and opponents dueled at the podium, including pastors and priests from churches that formerly hosted the tent city. Residents who lived nearby also spoke, saying they had seen used hypodermic needles and condoms at parks near the encampment.

Tent City 4 recently was invited to move to another Kirkland church, Lake Washington United Methodist, 7525 132nd Ave. N.E., after it leaves its current site or at some other point.

Kirkland officials say the changes are necessary so that the city doesn’t limit churches’ constitutional rights.

“The courts have made it clear that churches have a constitutional protected right to carry out their religious mission,” said Kirkland Mayor Mary-Alyce Burleigh. “There is an argument that if Tent City has to leave, or it can’t come back to Kirkland more than once a year, and if we are taken to court, we’d surely lose.”

The city will need to consider a more permanent ordinance in six months, said Eric Shields, Kirkland’s planning director. The encampment has not affected the city’s emergency services, police and fire officials told the council.

“We do regular walk-throughs of Tent City 4 … and closely monitor behavior there,” said Kirkland police Lt. Bill Hamilton. “There has been no increase in crime attributable to Tent City 4.”

Tent-city residents say they have not decided if or when they would take Lake Washington Methodist up on its offer, said John Nevers, a longtime resident of Tent City 4.

“We decided several weeks ago we’d like to slowly move south,” Nevers said.

“That’s where we’d like to go now, but if Bellevue doesn’t invite us, then we might have to go to Lake Washington Methodist Church. If we do go there, we won’t go back to Kirkland for one year.”

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