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Tuesday, July 6, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Old fray for new tent city

Seattle Times staff reporter

With Tent City 4 in Bothell now tangled in a sticky permitting process, the encampment's organizers are learning that history can repeat when it comes to where the homeless pitch their tents.

Tent City 3 in Seattle was considered illegal in its early days, but a 2002 agreement cleared the way for future encampments to exist permit-free under certain conditions. The homeless group has moved peacefully about 15 times since the inception of the document, good for eight more years within Seattle's city limits.

But for Tent City 4 in Bothell, the legal issues now have resurfaced and that city is asking the host church to abide by conditions that haven't applied to Seattle tent cities. The Rev. Lawrence Minder, who in mid-May invited the homeless to Bothell's St. Brendan Catholic Church for 90 days, says he is hesitant to agree to new terms.

A public hearing on the matter, which started last week, will continue today at 6 p.m. at Bothell Municipal Court, 10116 N.E. 183rd St.

Last month, a King County Superior Court judge denied Bothell's request for a cease-and-desist order against the church.

The judge OK'd terms agreed upon by both parties, including terms in Seattle's 2002 consent decree, and denied a handful of other conditions proposed by the city.

The judge, however, ruled that Bothell could require St. Brendan to obtain a permit for the encampment.

In that permitting process, the city is seeking the conditions denied in court. Those include requiring tent-city residents to provide identification for warrant and sex-offender checks, and that the church provide private security around the site.

Tent City 1, 2, 3

The Rev. Rich Lang, from Trinity United Methodist Church in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, said he also met protests in hosting the encampment in 2001.

"Up until Bothell, I think ours was the worst," he said.

In 1990, the first tent city lasted for three weeks near the old Kingdome in Seattle. The organizers, Seattle Housing And Resource Effort and the Women's Housing, Equality and Enhancement League (SHARE/WHEEL), moved homeless people into warehouses that eventually became a housing project and shelters.

Tent City 2, in 1998, was bulldozed off of a public site on Beacon Hill a month into its stay.

Tent City 3 started in 2000 and has moved about 40 times. El Centro de la Raza, a Beacon Hill community center, was one of the encampment's earliest hosts.

The city of Seattle cited El Centro because it hadn't applied for a permit to host the tent city. The city then denied the community center's permit application. Seattle also threatened to fine the center. The case was appealed to King County Superior Court.

Before a ruling was made, the tent city moved to Trinity United. Seattle then wanted to fine the church, and neighbors picketed against the encampment, Lang said. The city later decided against a fine, and the church hosted the tent city again a year later.

In 2002, a judge ruled that Seattle had improperly denied El Centro a permit. The city appealed but settled the case through a consent decree that made tent cities legal under certain conditions.

The agreement takes the place of a permit for tent-city hosts in Seattle. It states that SHARE/WHEEL must establish a written or oral agreement with a potential host, provide the consent decree and notify the city.

It addresses such issues as public notice, the maximum number of tenants, children in the encampment, buffers from surrounding lots, health and safety inspections, a tent-city code of conduct, and duration and frequency of stay.

"Every time SHARE/WHEEL goes to a new location, it offers that consent decree," said Ted Hunter, attorney for SHARE/WHEEL. "There's never been a problem. We just think, that's what works, why change it?"

Tent City 3 has also been hosted in Tukwila, Burien and Shoreline.

But it's Bothell's first time, notes Joyce Goedeke, Bothell's public-information officer. "This is a special situation to the city of Bothell, and the city is handling it in the best way we see fit to address the needs and concerns of all the community, including the tent-city residents," she said.

Creating a permit

At last week's public hearing, Bothell city staffers proposed special permit terms that did not apply to past tent cities.

These include requiring that tent-city residents submit to the warrant and sex-offender checks; that St. Brendan provide paid, professional security at and around Tent City 4 or reimburse police for overtime spent patrolling the site; and that the church provide liability insurance.

At last week's hearing, Bothell Police Chief Forrest Conover said his department had spent $44,000 in overtime patrolling the tent city, and that the cost would reach $94,000 by the end of the camp's stay.

Minder said St. Brendan never requested a police presence.

The Very Rev. Robert Taylor, dean of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, which has hosted a tent city four times, said police were not stationed at his site. SHARE/WHEEL officials have said constant police presence at tent cities is unprecedented.

The proposed permit also addresses water and solid-waste regulations and also raises the possibility of more conditions if the church hosts the homeless again.

Minder said he doesn't want to make it difficult for future tent-city hosts. "We don't want to enter into any agreements that are beyond the agreements that other cities have already signed off on," he said.

The proposed conditions can be revised before a permit is issued.

But if St. Brendan and the city can't agree on terms, they could end up back in court.

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

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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