[Hpn] Fit pitched, but there's hope

William C. Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Wed, 2 Feb 2005 06:14:49 -0500

Fit pitched, but there's hope

Full story:

Febuary 2, 2005

Yesterday at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, about two dozen homeless men came
to eat a hot meal and make a home for a month in the church's sanctuary.

 They'll come and go, sometimes late at night. During the day, some will go
to jobs and others will pass the day at nearby libraries or malls. Churches
sheltering the homeless is hardly news  except that St. Luke's is in a
residential part of Bellevue.

 It's part of a decade-old program in which up to 30 homeless men bunk
together at a rotating group of churches across the Eastside suburbs.

 That's the same Eastside that has gone ballistic lately over a homeless
tent city.

 "I'm at a loss to explain it," said the Rev. Gary Dalenius of Factoria's
Holy Cross Lutheran, another church in the program. "If they sleep inside,
it's fine, but outside, it's not. I don't see the difference."

 Neither do I. Is the Eastside so delicate it can't handle the homeless
unless they're out of sight and out of mind?

 Some Eastsiders wonder about the soul of their community, particularly
since a Bellevue church rejected the tent city, leaving the roving  camp
without a future home.

 Proposals for shelters are contentious everywhere, but the sheer animus
since the tent city arrived in the suburbs last summer has been shocking.

 Five lawsuits have been filed to try to stop it. The city of Bothell even
sued a Catholic church to keep it from hosting the camp, prompting a priest
to lament that "it shouldn't be this hard to help the poor."

 The homeless have been disparaged as con artists and freeloaders. An
opposition Web site, Tentcitysolutions.com, says the camp's real agenda is
"harboring fugitives, criminals, people with substance abuse and mental
problems, and anyone who wishes to live off the kindness of strangers
without having to be responsible for their own lives."

 It's embarrassing to some who call the Eastside home.

 "I guess I don't believe there's the compassion here in suburbia," said Bob
Harrell of Clyde Hill,  whose church is part of the rotating shelter
program. "When homelessness comes up, people aren't as concerned that
someone is living on the streets as they are that someone might break the
antenna on their Mercedes."

 Ouch. The suburbs can't be that shallow, can they?

 I called Kirkland's Tom Sherrard, a volunteer on homeless issues. He said
the tent-city fight has given the Eastside a bad rap. The headlines may be
about suburban heartlessness, but lost in the shrillness is how hundreds
have been jarred into helping.

 "It's brought us out and together like never before. I'm quite hopeful
we'll turn this negative energy into something positive."

 Maybe now, he hopes, the Eastside will  build a permanent emergency
homeless shelter.

 It's too simplistic to call the suburbs callous. On the other hand, if they
build that new shelter, they'd be wise to make sure nobody can see any
homeless people while driving by.

 Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at
206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com

 Copyright (c) 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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