Michael Schwartz's day starts with the early shift at McDonald's and ends with the late shift at Wendy's near downtown Kirkland. Both jobs are within...
Michael Schwartz’s day starts with the early shift at McDonald’s and ends with the late shift at Wendy’s near downtown Kirkland.
Both jobs are within walking distance or a short bus ride from where he lives: Tent City 4, the migratory encampment for the homeless, now located across from Kirkland City Hall.
“When I interviewed, they told me, ‘As long as you are here for work, we don’t care where you live,’ ” Schwartz said of his employers. “It seems like there are employment opportunities all the time here at Tent City. … A lot of people have gotten jobs here.”
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Schwartz and others who live at Tent City 4 say they have seen a noticeable increase in employment since the camp came to Kirkland in February. They estimate between 50 percent and 60 percent of the camp’s 60 or so residents have found work locally.
City officials, community business leaders and Tent City residents agree that employment among camp residents is the highest it has been since Tent City moved to Kirkland nearly a year ago.
Many attribute the increase to the current location’s proximity to the downtown area. They also say that being near city hall has made the camp more visible and accessible for potential employers looking for laborers.
Before coming to Kirkland, Tent City 4 occupied sites in Bothell, Woodinville and Finn Hill.
Mike Ball, manager of White Swan Car Wash in downtown Kirkland, said he has employed a handful of Tent City residents, in part because they are so close by.
“I’m in a business run by the weather. So when the sun comes out, and people want to get their car washed, I can call them [Tent City 4] up and say, ‘Can you come give me a hand?’ ” Ball said. “The people I employ are very nice, presentable people. It’s been a way more positive than negative experience.”
Kirkland Mayor Mary-Alyce Burleigh said the city’s parks department hired a Tent City resident for temporary park-maintenance work. She has also heard that a number of Tent City residents have gotten other jobs in the community.
“It’s not been part of any organized city program, but it speaks to the advantage of having Tent City close to downtown,” Burleigh said. “It’s easier for them to go downtown to find work. And it’s easier for them to get to work.”
While many Tent City residents found jobs by hitting the pavement and filling out applications, others say work has come to them. They tell of joggers stopping by the camp, asking if anyone wanted to spend the day doing yard work for pay. Some of those day-laborer positions have become permanent.
Sometimes it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time, said John Nevers, who has lived in Tent City for seven months.
“A guy walked into camp asking if anyone had a truck who wanted to work as a residential landscaper,” Nevers said. “I went to work that day. I’ve never gotten a job that easy before.”
That was several weeks ago, and the work has continued, Nevers said. Now that he’s clearing more than $10 a hour, Nevers said he hopes to move out of Tent City soon.
Many of the newly employed say they, too, hope to move out soon, but it takes a while to save enough to find an apartment. Many say they think they will be able to keep their jobs after Tent City 4 moves in mid-May to Lake Washington United Methodist Church, also in Kirkland.
In addition to providing more jobs, residents point to other supportive gestures by the community. A salon has given free haircuts to Tent City residents; a local gym has offered free memberships. City staff members have also helped direct Kirkland’s temporary homeless residents to resources, such as where to get new identification cards, Burleigh said.
“It seems like people have gone out of their way to make us comfortable here. There aren’t any protesters here,” said Sarah, a resident of Tent City for eight months who declined to give her last name.
“We appreciate it. These things bring us up, make us feel better.”
Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or firstname.lastname@example.org