[Hpn] Moving Day For Tent City

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 17 May 2004 07:37:50 -0400


www.kingcountyjournal.com

Moving day for tent city
2004-05-17
by Jeff Switzer
Journal Reporter

For Johnnie Anderson and his fiancee, Autumn Dupea, a new homeless camp in
the suburbs is their hope for a better day.
The two former Auburn residents are packing up their feather bed and two
bags of clothes and leaving behind a small tent in Lake City Christian
Church.
``We'll get brand new tents in Bothell,'' said Dupea, 22. ``We're Numbers 14
and 15.''
The two hope to wind up in Bothell after Tent City 3 in Lake City splits up
this morning.
As a couple, they can claim six pallets worth of land; singles get only four
pallets in Tent City. Fifteen milk crates form a faux box spring to get
their bed off the ground.
And while it isn't an apartment, it's better than being on the streets.
This morning, one group from Lake City heads to a cramped site in the
Central District to re-create Tent City 3; the other will spawn Tent City 4
on an open grassy field next to St. Brendan Catholic Church in Bothell.
The camp, across from 10049 N.E. 195th St., will last for 90 days.
Around Dupea's neck is a glass cross filled with the ashes of her dead
brother, Brandon, who died in the state's worst car crash ever, which in
2001 claimed six lives. Her left shoulder has a tattoo ``R.I.P. Brandon''
and ``Tom'' Stewart, the driver.
Dupea and Anderson, 21, were engaged on Valentine's Day at Auburn's Olympic
Junior High School, where the two met in seventh grade. Anderson dropped out
of high school in 11th grade and has worked painting and power washing, and
as a pressman putting ink on bulk frozen vegetable bags.
But Anderson lost his job in March and the two lost their apartment soon
after. For two weeks now, tent city has been safe and welcoming.
``The instant you're homeless, your name changes,'' Anderson said.
``Instantly you're a drug addict, a loser on the street. People are
judgmental as hell.''
Anderson said they want to go to Bothell because he thinks the Central
District, with its drugs and crime, wouldn't be safe for his fiancee.
``Bothell doesn't sound too much better now,'' he said, because of community
opposition.
County Executive Ron Sims said a legal cloud hanging over a Kirkland-area
site forced the county and Seattle-based Tent City organizers -- Seattle
Housing and Resource Effort and the Women's Housing, Equality and
Enhancement League -- to agree Thursday to move to church land in Bothell
instead.
``We're just trying to live,'' Dupea said. ``I hope people change their
minds.''
* * *
The church site is the farthest east homeless advocates have pitched a tent
city.
The field is next to and across the street from St. Brendan Catholic
Church's school, teaching grades kindergarten through eighth-grade students.
Next door is Heritage Christian School and First Baptist Church.
The area is surrounded by single-family homes.
On Saturday, Tent City residents Missy Lewis and Doron Jones measured the
site. Neighbors crawled by in their cars and stared, giving the two the
jitters.
``Let's put it behind the trees,'' Jones said.
``Why do you want to hide?'' Lewis asked.
The two planned out a 97-foot by 105-foot area for pallets that will keep
tents off the wet ground for 18 to 20 homeless people.
The closest neighbors were surprised to hear they'll soon have a homeless
camp nearby.
``I have mixed emotions,'' said Carin Vanderwel, a mother of three
daughters. ``I know the one in Lake City hasn't had a lot of trouble.
They've got to be somewhere, and I'd rather they were all together instead
of living under bridges.
``As long as they're not causing trouble. Everybody needs a break once in a
while.''
The news that tent city was coming to the neighborhood ``threw me for a
loop,'' said Kirk Heath, who works second shift assembling the forward
section of the Boeing 747. ``It was supposed to be up at 160th, now it's in
my backyard.''
He said he is irked because it seems Seattle's homeless problem is being
moved to the suburbs.
``I feel for about 50 percent of the homeless,'' Heath said. The rest, he
said, choose not to work or be a part of society.
``My big question is `what do they do all day?''' he asked. ``My big worry
is crime. Time will tell.''
* * *
At Tent City 3 in Lake City, residents say safety is in numbers.
One-third are working, one-third are looking for work and the rest are
unable to work. Residents can come and go as they please at all hours.
The kitchen tent is next to the TV tent, which is the only place people can
smoke under cover. The rules say that fires and tents don't mix.
A mountain of pastries and cakes pile up. ``There are a lot of sweets,''
said Jim Ashby, 47. ``You can go into a diabetic coma. Canned surplus meats
would be nice.''
Drugs and alcohol are not permitted, and if found can mean permanent
banishment. Same for stealing either from other campers or from nearby
stores.
The paths among the 71 tents for 100 people are packed, the dirt baked to a
hard-worn surface. There is no trash on the ground; a nearby Dumpster is
overflowing.
There are two Honey Bucket portable toilets for men, two for women, and one
handicapped toilet. If you slam the door, you've bought another shift on
security.
Ashby said he has been homeless two years. Thursday was his first day in
Tent City3 in Lake City, where he is a resident of ``The Hilton,'' a 30-foot
surplus Army tent with up to 20 cots for newcomers. Nearby, two ``Queen
Domes'' are for new homeless women, and sleep two to a tent. There are fewer
single women here because there isn't the need: Brick and mortar shelters
favor women over men, Ashby said.
His government pension from the Marines pays him the first of every month,
``a curse and a blessing.'' The influx of government cash isn't as good as
the 18 years he spent as a machinist in Kent, and hasn't helped him beat the
crack addiction that cost him his 23-year marriage. Ashby says he walks with
a cane to take the pressure off of his leg hurt in a helicopter crash.
``I am an addict and I fight it tooth and nail,'' Ashby said. ``90 percent
of all my problems are self-inflicted.''
Ashby's worried about moving to the Central District, where he knows how to
get crack. Tent City's rules help keep him clean, and he might fare better
moving to county land on the Eastside. ``My instincts for self-preservation
are to go to the Bothell site.''
* * *
Tent city's rules of conduct are strict and justice is swift, said Jeff
Roderick, 41. When Shoreline hosted tent city for 65 days, police said there
were just 10 calls for help, mostly to help evict a drunk or troublesome
resident.
Drunk residents are easy to spot, Roderick said, but it's harder to spot the
drug users. Some are blatantly stupid and openly drink beer or wine -- or
even cook dope in the communal Hilton tent, he said.
``We gave that guy 10 minutes to pack and leave,'' Roderick said.
Those people reinforce the stereotype of the visibly homeless panhandlers
and rowdy drunks in downtown Seattle, Roderick said. Instead of giving a
quarter to a panhandler, ``we'd prefer you spend that quarter on a
blanket,'' Roderick said.
People assume homeless are all addicted to drugs, alcoholics and criminals
out to hurt children, said Leo Rhodes, a resident and unofficial spokesman
for tent city.
``Many are well-educated people who have fallen on hard times,'' Rhodes
said. He told stories about a 70-year-old librarian who hurt her back and
spent her life savings on medical bills; injured military veterans; divorced
men who lost their jobs and couldn't afford child support and a roof over
their heads.
``There are people we try to get out before they're traumatized, before they
are deep, deep into depression,'' Rhodes said. That death spiral can lead to
drug and alcohol abuse as people seek ways to ease the pain of homelessness.
* * *
Each tent has a paper plate with a nickname: Sunshine, Silver Moon II, Lions
Lair, The Grey Castle, Freedoms Gate, The Hills Have Eyes, Barbie World.
Jerry Thompson, 47, lives at The Eagles Nest, a dome tent on four pallets.
He's a two-year resident of tent city who takes two buses to sell his plasma
on Wednesdays and Saturdays -- $15 the first visit, $22 the second.
He uses the money to buy tobacco, maybe a meal or a movie. His tar-stained
fingers are the price he pays for rolling his own cigarettes, but it's worth
it: He gets 25 cigarettes from a $1.40 pack of tobacco.
He and several other old timers won't be going to Tent City 4 in Bothell.
It's too far -- an hour-long bus ride -- from Seattle services and free
showers.
The ex-Marine was married and divorced twice before he was 30 years old.
He says he's an alcoholic, and tent city ``keeps me sober.''
``I'm using it for my sobriety,'' he said, raising a cup of coffee and
pointing to a can of Coke.

Jeff Switzer can be reached at  jeff.switzer@kingcountyjournal.com  or
425-453-4234.



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