Tent cities have trekked across Puget Sound for more than a decade, on a journey through church yards, vacant lots and controversy. These sponsored encampments are...

Share story

Tent cities have trekked across Puget Sound for more than a decade, on a journey through church yards, vacant lots and controversy.

These sponsored encampments are a mix of emergency shelter and political statement about the vulnerability of the homeless. If they are intentionally provocative reminders of the poor in our midst, then they have succeeded — in part.
Seattle University is taking the tent-city concept in yet another direction. At the end of the month, Tent City 3 will move onto SU tennis courts near the main campus.

The Jesuit university will provide a place for tent city to land for the next month, and also explore the social, legal and theological implications of homelessness in its classrooms and legal and nursing clinics.

SU pondered and prepared for this moment over the past nine months.

Generic questions about safety, security and, yes, the reaction of parents who pay high-priced tuition were all considered along with the teachable moments the experience promises.

On a most human and practical level, SU is not doing anything more than secular and religious tent-city hosts have offered with far fewer resources. The university is taking the next giant leap beyond portable toilets and anxiety to involve the homeless in the mission of the institution.

The homeless, who will receive tent space and other creature comforts along with two meals a day, have agreed to share their plight with students. In turn, SU’s law students, nurses-in-training and future social workers will invest their time and talent in the problems of people on the lowest, most precarious economic rung.

University leadership boldly concluded there was no substitute for this contact: a critical mass of attention to a problem persistent through good economic times and bad.

Tent cities have become such a fixture of the urban and suburban landscape, legislators are contemplating stricter rules and permits to give communities more time to plan.

No one believes tent cities are a plausible or desirable solution to homelessness. Mental illness and the ravages of alcohol and drug abuse are as much a part of the equation as poverty.

For Jesuits, there must be a little curiosity how this mission came about, as noted by a Portland member of the society who works and lives with the poorest of the city’s poor.

In his book “Radical Compassion,” Gary Smith, S.J., quotesJesus in the Book of John:

“You did not choose me, no, I chose you … to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

The administrators and students of Seattle University will have a month to contemplate that passage anew.