[Hpn] Tent City Could Sink County Wide Effort To Help Homeless

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Wed, 7 Jul 2004 06:35:37 -0400


www.Tribnet.com


Tent city could sink countywide effort to help the homeless

KATHLEEN MERRYMAN; The News Tribune

The Rev. Hank Montgomery, who has gone public with plans to set up a tent
city for the homeless, now claims he has an opening day and a location.
"'Destiny Village' will be opened at 9 a.m. on the 9th of July," he wrote in
an e-mail last week.
The site, he says, would be steep acreage at 5317 Marine View Drive in
Northeast Tacoma.
Montgomery has managed to find a property owner feuding with the City of
Tacoma over getting connected to water. It might not be the owner's
intention to throw the tent village at the city as an act of defiance and
spite, but it surely can be interpreted that way.
The only thing worse than the siting here is the timing.
Though Montgomery has rights and perspective as a homeless person, he could
sabotage progress made and progress to come. He has jumped into the middle
of a countywide effort to get shelter and effective services to the
chronically homeless.
That work is in addition to Pierce County Homeless Coalition's ongoing - and
respected - struggle to get people settled into stable housing.
The coalition members know the scope of the problem. They know as well as
Montgomery that living on the street is dangerous, sometimes deadly.
Coalition members have made enormous progress over the past decade. For
starters, they have realized the power of working with instead of against
each other and government. Thanks to that, homeless people in Pierce County
have the new Tacoma Rescue Mission and Nativity House, both of which
cooperate with law enforcement and listen to neighbors' concerns. Lakewood
Area Shelter Association, Phoenix Housing Network and Helping Hand House
have built innovative programs to get families not only housed, but also
working and functional. Phoebe House has risen from the ashes of
mismanagement to get meth moms straight and stable.
Coalition members could not have done this on their own. Corporations,
foundations, government agencies, ordinary people have given millions of
dollars - and volunteer hours - to keep the system serving.
Coalition members have done something else: They have moved public
perception beyond the stereotypes of homelessness.
Right now, they're working on mustering public will to deal effectively with
their toughest challenge, the chronic 10 percent of the homeless
population - the mentally ill, addicted, even criminal - that sucks up 50
percent of the resources.
Part of the long-term solution will certainly be new types of services and
housing.
A tent city could well be part of an immediate, emergency solution, but only
if it goes up as a stop-gap measure, not a concession to an insoluble
problem. To that end, the coalition has invited representatives of
Share/Wheel Tent City Project to speak at a July 8 meeting. The idea was to
get educated, assess the need and, if necessary, earn the community's trust
and support to proceed in an orderly manner and with government cooperation.
The Rev. Montgomery could sink all of that.
He knows the city will try to shut his Destiny Village down for failing to
comply with regulations requiring any residence to have water service. (If a
tent catches fire on the brushy hillside, the bottled water Montgomery wants
to provide residents won't do much good.)
He can bet on alienating the neighbors.
And he can be sure his rash grandstanding will erase the goodwill and trust
so many others have worked so hard to build on behalf of the homeless.
He should be shut down before he opens.

Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677  kathleen.merryman@mail.tribnet.com

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