Upon hearing that a homeless camp planned on moving to county-owned land near her Bothell home last May, LeSan Riedmann organized. She coordinated a group that protested King County's...
Upon hearing that a homeless camp planned on moving to county-owned land near her Bothell home last May, LeSan Riedmann organized.
She coordinated a group that protested King County’s lack of public notice in its planning process. She picketed the county executive. She talked to the media.
Now, nine months and three Tent City 4 sites later, she’s still at it.
“When we first started, I thought we’d be done in a week,” she said. “We had no idea what we were getting into.”
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Since moving to the Eastside less than a year ago, the homeless camp has drawn a passionate and increasingly sophisticated opposition. At the same time, Tent City 4 supporters also have become more organized.
And that means the controversy is probably here for the long haul. Tent-city organizers vow to stay in the suburbs as long as the camp has a place to stay. And the groups shadowing it promise to be there, too, despite some recent complaints that individual opponents have at times crossed the line into nastiness.
“It has clearly sparked everybody’s passion,” said Cora Goss-Grubbs, a Woodinville resident who has volunteered at Tent City 4. “I feel like if we could get a mediator and talk in the same place, we could all work together to find some good shelter” for the Eastside homeless.
The camp’s introduction to the Eastside was anything but smooth. Controversy over tent-city locations and a lack of county permits has dogged the camp since its May arrival.
The camp recently moved to the grounds of St. John Mary Vianney Catholic Church on Finn Hill near Kirkland, amid protests and requests for a restraining order from the opposition.
Steve Pyeatt, leader of that group, King County Communities for Fair Process, has become a veteran opponent ever since he heard Riedmann talking about the issue on the radio.
He offered to set up a Web site, tentcitysolutions.com, which now functions as information and command central for tent-city foes.
Reasons for the group’s opposition have evolved. Initially, most said they were frustrated with a lack of public comment over places for the camps, Pyeatt said.
“Then we realized that [tent cities] were a bad idea all the way around,” he said.
As the homeless camp moves from city to city, the group has retained loyal members from previous neighborhoods and is gaining new ones.
As a result, Eastsiders frustrated or angered about the tent city need to look no further than the group’s Web site for ways to direct their energy. The Web site provides contact information for government officials and carries schedules of protests, public meetings and court dates.
Fliers can be downloaded to “warn” new neighbors; petitions to send to the Metropolitan King County Council; and “fact sheets” outlining problems with the tent city. A group e-mail circulates among some 500 people daily, providing a forum for people to vent their frustrations, Pyeatt said.
Realizing that tent cities will be on the Eastside for a while, the group recently incorporated as a nonprofit organization.
“It’s never been intentional growth, but instead it’s stayed more organic,” Riedmann said. “We’re neighbors who are bonding together to fight for our community.”
Communities for Fair Process’ growing agenda, Pyeatt said, includes proposing a referendum that would ban homeless camps on public land and advocating for a new county-government structure that would eliminate the county executive.
It has gotten the attention of at least two County Council members, Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert, who recently sent a letter to SHARE/WHEEL, the Seattle-based homeless-advocacy organization that operates the tent city, requesting that it open its books to residents of Finn Hill.
The group’s work certainly had a financial effect on Tent City 4’s recent stay in Woodinville.
A city report released yesterday noted that the cost to the city for hosting the homeless camp was about $91,600, for everything from preparing the site to administrative and bureaucratic costs. And more than a third of that was in some way related to responding to requests from the opposition, said Marie Stake, the city’s spokeswoman.
“They have the right to request what they request, to interact with us and speak at public meetings,” Stake said. “It was all part of the cost of doing business.”
The opposition makes no apologies.
“Tent city doesn’t come free; it comes with a cost, which is why we encourage people to get involved with some real solutions [for the homeless],” Pyeatt said.
Until then, he added, “If tent city comes to your neighborhood, we are coming with it.”
The group’s diligent organization has both impressed and troubled many Eastside tent-city supporters and sponsors. At best, they say, the opponents’ efforts require a time-consuming response, with court motions, numerous e-mails and regular protests.
At worst, they say, the opposition has sometimes turned mean.
“It seems to have gotten nastier each time,” said the Rev. Paul Forman, pastor of Northshore United Church of Christ, which sponsored the tent city while it was in Woodinville.
He and others accuse the foes of using inflammatory language to play off people’s fears of the homeless camp.
At a recent protest, for example, a man carried a sign calling SHARE/WHEEL “suburban terrorists.”
Peggy Hotes, a teacher at Carl Sandburg Elementary near the Finn Hill tent city, was quoted in a newspaper story voicing support for the tent city. Shortly afterward, she discovered that her public-property and tax records had been sent out to subscribers of the opposition’s mass e-mail. The author of the posting had noted that Hotes was divorced and commented: “She’s got to have lots of room now; maybe she should host a few [tent-city residents] herself.”
Instead of backing down, Hotes has vowed to sleep one night a week at the camp to learn more about it.
In another mass e-mail, one Finn Hill resident invited people to his home to watch tent-city residents through a night-vision scope.
Leo Rhodes, a tent-city resident, said some camp residents think they are being unfairly labeled as drug users or drunks.
“I know [the opponents say] they are against [SHARE/WHEEL], but it still feels personal,” he said.
Cami Keyes, a Finn Hill resident and opposition leader, said her group shouldn’t be blamed for the behavior of individuals.
“When people are not given an opportunity to give public input, they get pretty ticked and sometimes they act irrationally,” Keyes said.
Camp has supporters
But the arrival of a suburban tent city also has spurred a passionate group of supporters.
The Rev. Marillyn Schultz Rothermel, co-pastor of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bothell, helped to organize the first network of tent-city supporters, Bothell Community Action Response Efforts.
That group, too, has morphed as tent city has moved around the Eastside, changing its name, retaining devoted volunteers and gaining new ones.
Now called Eastsidecares.org, the group has cooperated with members of St. John to provide hot meals, collect donations and offer transportation to tent-city residents.
Tom Sherrard, a Kirkland volunteer, estimated 200 people have signed up to help at the Kirkland camp.
“We’ve been surprised at how many people are eager to help,” he said. “In some areas, we end up having more people than we need.”
Kelly Kearsley: 206-464-2112 or firstname.lastname@example.org