Tent City and other homeless encampments present difficult decisions and challenges for city governments and their populations. On one side is the thought that everyone deserves a second chance and a place where they can reasonably regroup and buy themselves some time to organize a new life and job plan. Most encampments also have a limited time in which they can be in certain designated areas and there have been very few documented occurrences of members of homeless encampments causing trouble for the communities they reside in. On the other side is the thought of community members who don’t want potential problems caused by people with time on their hands and needs they currently can’t meet congregating in neighborhoods they own homes in. Some would also say that sponsored homeless encampments act as a sort of enabler and reduce the speed and initiative some might have to dust themselves off and find a way to provide for themselves and their families. It’s a very slippery slope but homeowners can’t expect having homeless encampments nearby increase their home values or their peace of mind when it comes to safety, especially for their children. The city of Sammamish is currently dealing with pros and cons of this debate.
Recently Tent City 4 was concluding their 90 day stay at Mary, Queen of Peace Church in Sammamish and had an agreement to then stay at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, also in Sammamish. However the Sammamish City Council approved an emergency six-month moratorium on homeless encampments, disallowing the use of any city property for homeless encampments. The encampment has since been accepted to stay near Lake Sammamish State Park outside Sammamish city limits but opened new dialogue as to why and what cost a city should open its arms to homeless encampments and upset their communities and populations. Most cities have ordinances preventing encampments from residing within their limits once per year and only for up to 90 days at a time, and some cities don’t allow for homeless encampments at all. Homeless encampments rely on donations and volunteers to run and do not use tax money or subsidies. Very few issues involving members have arisen in the past and Sammamish Parish administrator Rich Shively said the encampment successfully policed itself and left without any problems occurring during their stay.
Sammamish has a very affluent population, one in which home values are quite high, which probably led to many in the community voicing their displeasure with a homeless encampment within their city limits. Although homeless encampments are short-term, anyone whose residence was in close proximity probably saw a dip in their home value and if selling during that time probably took a financial hit. Sammamish has a population of 49,069 people, a 43.9% increase since 2000. Even though the total population of Sammamish is relatively small, the geographic size of the area is quite large. Sammamish has a land area of 18.1 square miles. The median household income is $131,993, more than double the average median household income of Washington State of $56,835. The median home value in Sammamish is a staggering $545,318. This is more than double than that of the average median home value in Washington State of $256,300. It is easy to see why the affluent of Sammamish don’t want homeless encampments in their city limits. You don’t pay top dollar for a family home just to look out the window at a camp of homeless.
Tent City 4 will now reside at the Hans Jensen Group Camp on State Park land on the north end of Lake Sammamish State Park. It will be the first time a homeless encampment stays at a State Park. Members are only required to pay a fee of $2 a head to stay at the State Park and Woodinville’s Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Church has donated $6500 to help cover the costs of running Tent City 4. Lake Sammamish State Park is popular with many groups, including The Boy Scouts, Soccer Clubs, and large family get-togethers and the hope is that there will continue to be few issues and interferences with community groups. The homeless encampment already has their next location planned in Bellevue at the Temple B’nai Torah. Soon Bellevue officials and communities will have to prepare and plan for these new tenets that many have dissenting opinions on. The big question is what happens when a member does create a big problem? How does a city even consider opening its arms and put its populations and communities in more harm’s way than is necessary while also conceivably lowering the value of the properties in the surrounding areas?