From JPC Staff | Winter 2012
Tent City 3: Healing and Hope
From the Staff of the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development
Between January 21 and March 24, the 100 residents of Tent City 3 will be living on Seattle Pacific University's campus.
The arrival of TC3 on campus is now just weeks away. A group of faculty, staff, and students has been working over the past few months to coordinate services, meals, and programming to support Tent City 3 residents and educate the SPU community during TC3’s quarter-long stay on the SPU campus.
This committee’s work will organize basic comforts for TC3 (including meals and clinic visits) as well as connections between the SPU and TC3 communities (game nights, knitting circles, lectures, and other opportunities to interact). When Tent City relocates at the end of March, 2012, we hope that two seemingly dissimilar communities will know and understand each other better than they did before.
Overall, the campus and community response to TC3’s visit has been positive. TC3 comes with an excellent track record of self-management and rules of conduct. Many people, including students, staff, faculty and Queen Anne residents, recognize SPU’s invitation to TC3 as mission-delivery: we talk about radical reconciliation and cultural engagement; here’s a way to do just that.
Some, however, doubt the value of supporting shelter programs at all. We spoke to one man who asked bluntly, “How do you make them leave?” In this individual’s view, homeless people are a devalued “other”; providing services that support others like this perpetuates a problem instead of offering a solution.
Does offering shelter to homeless individuals encourage those people to stay homeless? By making space on our campus for Tent City residents to pitch their tents, do we make it easier for these people to stay on the streets instead of getting their lives together and finding homes, jobs, and family connections like the rest of us? We don’t think so.
The director of a Seattle shelter advocacy program spoke recently of her frustration with a recent trend in public discourse that discredits efforts to provide emergency shelter and transitional housing, favoring only funding for long-term housing. It seems shelter is no longer in vogue; now it’s only cool to encourage long-range solutions.
Of course we need more affordable housing in order to address the needs of those who currently utilize emergency overnight shelters or transitional housing. However, temporary shelter is a crucial need in the process of helping people move from homelessness to long-term housing stability. Eliminating emergency shelter follows the same logic that would remove life preservers from Washington state ferries. In an emergency some will swim to safety, but others won’t, and that’s not OK.
Temporary emergency shelters such as Tent City 3 offers residents a measure of stability: a place to store belongings, a consistent location in which to sleep, and a community whose friendships and standards provide structure and safety. With Tent City 3 to cover some of the basics, residents have more time and energy to devote to work or the job-search process, health appointments, and the pursuit of longer-term solutions.
We’re excited for the interactions and growth that will take place on campus in the coming months. In addition to meeting an important community need, there’s healing and hope for the SPU community in the process of welcoming Tent City 3 to our neighborhood. As God speaks in Isaiah 58:6-8:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: … to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter … Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear.
Find more information on the programs and services associated with Tent City 3’s stay at SPU by visiting spu.edu/events/tent-city/index.asp.
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