Tent City 3 on Wallace Field at Seattle Pacific University.
Over 100 people packed Weter Lounge for the final event in SPU’s Tent City educational forum series: the panel “What Homeless People Want,” presented by residents of Tent City 3, Nickelsville, and leaders of SHARE/WHEEL.
In addition to me, coordinator for global and urban involvement for the Perkins Center at SPU, the audience included campers, students, community organizers, and elected Seattle city officials. We heard our homeless neighbors’ requests, and I heard familiar statistics in a new light: on one night in January 2012, nearly 2,600 people in Seattle were outside without shelter. Now these numbers had names, faces, and stories — including Lantz, who holds a bachelor’s degree in classical organ performance, has worked as a computer programmer, and is now a Tent City resident. As the program unfolded, I was reminded of the importance of action. Knowing about the crisis of homelessness is not enough. To truly love my neighbors as myself I must act, advocate and engage in pursuit of justice.
During Winter Quarter 2012, I helped coordinate events and such during Tent City 3’s stay on SPU’s campus. For nine weeks, this homeless community was part of the campus community, and all of us — students, faculty, staff, and our Queen Anne neighbors — had a meaningful time of learning, service, and mutual encouragement.
I saw many great connections happen between SPU and TC3. Students organized knitting groups, musical collaborations, a book club, an evening of manicures, and many other social activities. First Free Methodist Church invited TC3 to its Sunday night worship service and meal and weekly food-care clinics. Community groups, First Free, Greater Seattle Cares, and SPU groups provided meals for TC3 every night. It was the first time, TC3 residents told us, that they had a hot meal guaranteed for every night during a stay.
I was encouraged by how SPU approached TC3. It would have been easy for the relatively affluent SPU community to look with pity on “those needy people” of TC3. But instead of this hierarchical approach, many saw TC3’s visit as an opportunity to meet new neighbors and learn from new perspectives on social issues.
But what does all this mean now that Tent City 3 residents have left us? What will be the long-term impact of their visit to SPU?
Systems theorist Uri Bronfenbrenner writes, “To demonstrate that human development has occurred, it is necessary to establish that a change produced in the person’s conceptions and/or activities carries over to other settings and other times.” “Change” is only real if it impacts more than a single area of life and is sustained over time. If TC3’s stay at SPU doesn’t move us toward ongoing engagement, advocacy, and concern, we’ve accomplished only charity — and missed the mark in pursuit of justice and transformation.
TC3’s stay this winter has shaped the campus conversation and is producing action. Discussions of homelessness, justice, and advocacy became commonplace. Our TC3 neighbors helped us put faces to what were once only "issues." Conversations with homeless people helped us dispel our long-held myths. And, most important, campus groups continue to work on ways to continue partnership with TC3, advocating for justice for homeless individuals in Seattle.
As we assess the impact of our interaction with TC3, I’m confident that more good is yet to come. I’m excited to see the ways in which the partnerships started here will be carried forward in SPU’s pursuit of justice and reconciliation.
— Owen Sallee, Coordinator for Global and Urban Involvement, the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development, Seattle Pacific University
Photo by Luke Rutan