This is only the second time Tent City has been hosted by a college campus; in 2005, Seattle University became the first in the nation to host a homeless encampment when it welcomed this group.

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One of the best classrooms at Seattle Pacific University this quarter is spread across Wallace Field.

In January, Tent City 3, SHARE/WHEEL’s roving homeless encampment, moved about 100 people onto campus for a nine-week stay that will end March 24.

This is only the second time Tent City has been hosted by a college campus; in 2005, Seattle University became the first in the nation to host a homeless encampment when it welcomed this group.

I haven’t visited Tent City since 2001, when it was pitched at Lake City Christian Church.

I interviewed the neighbors after the tents had moved on, and heard mixed reviews. Some missed the residents, and some were glad to leave their doors unlocked again.

“You never know about the people,” one resident sniffed.

It’s different here. Unlike church properties, where most parishioners only engage with Tent City residents at dinner or on Sundays, SPU students have built a curriculum and community around them, holding forums and offering services that go beyond food and donations.

Students have held a pancake breakfast. A chess tournament. Knitting classes. A book drive. A “Manicure & Tea” party for the women. Nursing students offered a foot clinic and gave out free socks.

The other night, there was a university forum titled “What Homeless People Want,” centered on the residents’ experiences.

Tonight, the SPU Art Department and the Lingua journal will sponsor an event at which the residents and students will create a collaborative painting project on a single giant canvas.

“They have done so much for the self-esteem of the campers,” said resident Jerry Thomas, 47.

“It means a lot to have young students see what we’re going through. They’re going to be the taxpayers and politicians of the future. It’s important for them to see this.”

But I saw something else: Tent City isn’t the remote island we used to think it to be, the cautionary tale along our morning commute.

The mortgage crisis has forced many Americans to face hard truths, consider their options and realize that maybe they, aren’t so far from a tent on pallets on a college sports field.

We also have a better understanding of the Tent City tale of how hard it is to find work; intimate knowledge of how days can pass without a lead, a bite, an offer.

Only about 15 of the current residents are working; the rest are looking or unable.

But the Tent City has what hopefuls need to find jobs: a shower, donated clothes, a place to store their things while they go to appointments.

There is wireless access and bus tokens.

During my visit, SPU alumnus Lars Haneberg was running around the track, past the tarp-covered tents and the Honey Buckets.

“I have mixed feelings,” he told me.

“We spent money to keep the place looking nice, and you worry about the aftermath. You… just want to make sure that this doesn’t disrupt what the school is trying to do here, and the athletes.”

Haneberg paused, looked over at a resident sweeping near the camp entrance.

“It’s fine, though,” he said. “I’ve warmed more to it.”

Audrey Riddle, 21, is a psychology major who also is a student liaison to Tent City 3.

At first, she said, students didn’t know what to expect.

“There was a lot of confusion between this and Occupy Seattle,” she said. “A lot of alarm from the parents.”

But then 200 students showed up — in the snow — to help the residents move in.

“It’s one thing to take a class, but seeing it lived out… ” Riddle said. “I will never stop advocating.”

Thomas is hoping for a day when Riddle won’t have to; when homelessness will just be something students saw in college. A class they took.

“Everybody here, we want to be a part of society, we want to be taxpayers,” Thomas said.

“We don’t want to be out here living in a tent. We want the American dream.”

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

I hope he gets it.