Church welcomes tent city, Bothell officials do not

By Young Chang and Nick Perry
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Rafael and Susan Rodriguez set up housekeeping as Tent City 4 takes shape yesterday on property of St. Brendan Catholic Church in Bothell. The couple had been living in Seattle's Tent City 3 for about 30 days.

Susan Rodriguez apologizes for the state of her tent.
She hasn't begun unpacking. The television should go on a stand in the middle, between the kitchenware crate and the basket containing her L'Oréal wrinkle cream and other toiletries.

The clothes, for now stashed in garbage bags next to the bed, should go outside the tent. The shoes should sit in a crate on the porch.

"This is our little porch for when it's hot," said the 45-year-old, patting the pallet that serves as a platform leading to her tent. She has covered the surface with a Navajo-print blanket.

Rodriguez, a monthlong resident of Seattle's Tent City 3, spent most of yesterday moving into her new Tent City 4 home on land owned by Bothell's St. Brendan Catholic Church. She said it's important to keep her tent tidy.

Jason Dollison takes a break yesterday afternoon to give Lisa Kier a hug while they set up their home at Tent City 4 in Bothell. Wooden pallets provided makeshift flooring for the tents.

"It's the little bit of dignity we have left," she said. "It's hard to keep stuff when you're homeless. You make it as much like home as possible."

Despite weeks of controversy leading up to the homeless encampment's arrival on the Eastside, Rodriguez and 30 others appeared celebratory yesterday as they moved into their new neighborhood from Seattle's Lake City Christian Church. Volunteers from the Bothell church helped carry their belongings, pitched tents and donated food for the day. Two area residents set up a barbecue and grilled 250 hot dogs.

"We are kind of like pilgrims," Leo Rhodes, who was helping coordinate the move, said to those in his convoy just before they left. "We are going up there into new territory and making new friends."

Not everyone reacted amiably. Yesterday, Bothell city officials filed a lawsuit against St. Brendan in King County Superior Court, seeking a preliminary injunction so it can be determined whether the church has violated Bothell's zoning regulations by hosting the homeless community on private land.

"The lawsuit simply puts before the court our position that we have a right to insist upon the parties meeting the law," said Manny Ocampo, interim city manager.

Ocampo, however, added that the city is still working with tent-city organizers and St. Brendan to make sure the city has a say in the governance of the tent city.

At a Bothell City Council meeting last night, some community members also expressed concerns about the tent-city site being in close proximity to several schools.

But the announcement of the lawsuit, which came late yesterday afternoon, did nothing to dampen the mood of moving day.

A convoy of about 20 supporters started the morning at Lake City Christian by loading their vehicles with tents and the belongings of campers at 9:30 a.m. The homeless community was greeted at St. Brendan by about 60 church volunteers who helped unpack. No protesters were seen.

On a grassy, shady, 2-acre site surrounded by tall trees, the tent-city campers and volunteers quickly got busy laying down dozens of wooden pallets to create makeshift floors. Some put up the six-person "Marriott" tent, an emergency overnight shelter for men. The companion four-person "Queendome" tent for women was set up nearby.

Five portable toilets and a wash basin were unloaded at the camp, though organizers were still sorting through the options for electricity and water. King County representatives talked to residents about other issues, such as how physically challenged residents would cope with a 1-mile walk to the nearest transit station, an issue still to be resolved.

Others turned up to help, including religious leaders, four people from a homeless camp in Portland, and 17 Lakeside Middle School students studying homelessness firsthand.

Tom Robinson, one of the two cooks who grilled the hundreds of hot dogs, said he wanted to welcome his new neighbors. Other volunteers poured coffee.

The tent city also received truckloads of donated sleeping bags, blankets, toiletries, rope and food. Trinity United Methodist Church in Seattle donated $1,000, and other donations totaled about $700.

The warm reception followed a controversial few weeks during which protesters fought to keep the homeless from moving onto unincorporated county land near the Brickyard Road Park & Ride outside Bothell. Tent-city opponents sued King County and accused County Executive Ron Sims of neglecting to give adequate notice of the plans. Sims unexpectedly announced Friday that Tent City 4 would move instead to the land owned by St. Brendan.

Yesterday, County Councilwoman Carolyn Edmonds proposed an ordinance to create a citizens advisory commission on homeless encampments.

So far, Bothell residents have responded with mixed feelings about the tent city's arrival at the church property, bordered on two sides by the Heritage Christian School. Parish members said they support the Rev. Lawrence Minder's decision to host the homeless. Minder also announced Sunday that he would live in the tent city for 90 days as a show of support and as atonement for not giving ample notice to the community outside of his congregation.

May Landas, whose two children are enrolled at the Heritage Christian School, said she felt caught off guard by the lack of notice.

"I think, because there are so many kids involved, that should've been taken care of from the start," she said. "I am worried, as a parent."

Some students at the school pointed and talked about the camp from classroom windows.

But the tent-city residents went about their homemaking, happy with their new digs.

"It's a pretty place," said Autum Dupea, who moved to Bothell from the Seattle tent city.

Rodriguez, kneeling inside her tent and deciding what needed to go where, stashed two pairs of furry slippers to the side of her porch.

"It's for when we have to go outside at night," she said.

Young Chang: 206-748-5815 or ychang@seattletimes



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