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Wednesday, December 12, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Moving Day: Residents Of Tent City Shift Camp

Jeanette Whiteclaw shook her head.

``It's over with and I'm glad we're getting out of here,'' she said with a grin, her voice rising with glee. ``We're going inside where it's warm and there are showers. We can breathe again. This is over with. It's been tough.''

Since Thanksgiving, Whiteclaw and dozens of other homeless men and women at the makeshift encampment named Tent City had only dreamed of heat and showers.

But as of yesterday - when they dismantled Tent City, tent by tent, pallet by pallet and box by box - the dreams suddenly turned into reality. They were headed to a new home, with roof, heat and indoor plumbing in an old Metro bus barn at the foot of Queen Anne Hill.

A new life had begun.

Some of the homeless marched to their ``new home.'' Others caught buses, hopped rides or jogged.

By 2 p.m. the old Metro bus barn was filled with life.

Two homeless men sat on the floor, their faces intent, matching wits in a game of chess.

Another former Tent City resident leaned against a wall, a smile etched across his face. Meanwhile, two other residents - a man and a woman - debated over what mission was serving lunch.

``They serve the next meal at 2:30,'' the man said.

``What time is it now?'' the woman inquired.

``I don't know,'' the man replied.

``Anybody got the time?'' the woman asked.

``It's 2:10,'' a radio reporter yelled out.

``Let's go. We can make it!'' the woman said, as they rushed out the door.

Residents had been concerned that only 100 homeless men and women would be allowed to stay at the temporary bus barn shelter.

But a local church - Immaculate Conception Church, 820 18th Ave., agreed to allow any remaining residents of Tent City to stay there as long as they receive a referral from members of SHARE, the coalition of homeless residents and activists responsible for creating Tent City.

Most Tent City residents yesterday afternoon, however, had one thought on their minds: a hot shower. ``We've got one shower for the women, and two for the men,'' Whiteclaw said. ``So I'm going to get up at 4 a.m. to take my shower. I need it. After all, I've been living in the mud.''

For this group of homeless people there would be no more sloshing around in mud. No more blasts of cold air from chilling winds. No more freezing temperatures. And no more late-night bouts with rain and trains.

``It's kind of sad moving out of here because I like it here. It's been kind of like the home I've never had since living out in the streets,'' said Paul Johnson, 18, as the move began earlier in the day.

He glanced around at the muddy, empty field where more than two dozen tents had stood, a lot that housed about 150 men and women just a few hours earlier. ``But I guess it's time to move on.''

For the most part, however, the men and women of Tent City were upbeat and optimistic yesterday. They had awakened - some to the sound of a bullhorn - at 7:30 a.m. and had begun tearing down what had symbolized their quest for self-determination and dignity.

Each resident had stacked wooden pallets into piles, stripped tents, folded blankets, rolled sleeping bags and picked up debris from the mud at Tent City.

They also had packed their individual belongings - some in knapsacks, others in plastic garbage bags - and prepared them for the journey across town to the old bus barn building at Fifth Avenue North and Mercer Street.

Occasionally, a few passersby, both the curious and concerned, would lend a hand. By noon only a Christmas tree, standing next to what had been the main tent at Tent City, stood as a reminder of life on the barren, wet field.

But an hour later, even the tree was gone. The homeless men and women had lifted it up and carried it to the new shelter.

A sign left stuck in the mud at Tent City read: ``Going out of business. Closed.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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