Redmond church risks big fines as it hosts homeless camp
Seattle Times staff reporter
Defying an order from the city of Redmond, St. Jude Catholic Church welcomed Tent City 4, the Eastside's traveling homeless encampment, to its grounds Saturday.
The city — which initially granted, then voided a permit for the encampment — answered the action with a threat to fine the church as much as $500 a day, five times what a senior city official had proposed last week. The church's plan to host the homeless group for 90 days could now cost it more than $37,000.
Yet the mood outside the church was upbeat. Homeless people and church members alike unloaded wooden pallets and plywood from trucks, and set up tents. Campers' belongings arrived in black trash bags labeled with silver duct tape. Volunteers drove Tent City residents to the church from their former site at another Catholic church, St. John Vianney, near Kirkland.
"These folks need a place to stay," said the Rev. David Rogerson of St. Jude. "We're not going to pull the rug out from under them at the last minute."
If the fines are upheld, the church will pay them from donations rather than from parish funds, he said.
An estimated 8,000 people are homeless in King County, and some 2,000 don't have shelter on a given night, according to the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. Communities in Seattle and on the Eastside have debated whether to allow tent cities. In 2005, Bellevue passed new restrictions on homeless encampments: It won't permit encampments to stay at a site for more than 60 days — other cities allow 90 days — or to return to the same location until 18 months have elapsed.
Last December, when St. Jude and Tent City 4's sponsor, SHARE/WHEEL, filed an application with the city of Redmond to stay up to 110 days, some Redmond residents objected because three schools are within blocks of the church: Redmond Junior High, Horace Mann Elementary and Norman Rockwell Elementary.
The Planning Department issued a temporary permit Dec. 21. The permit required the church to provide sidewalk monitors during the hours children are going to and from school, among other provisions. Ten appeals were filed with the city's hearing examiner.
Last week, days before the encampment was to arrive at St. Jude, the city hearing examiner overturned the temporary permit. The city issued a statement saying it would not seek a temporary restraining order against the encampment because its chances of success in court were slim, and instead would deal with it using fines.
Jay Beavers, 38, a church member involved in the permit application, said the King County Sheriff's Office conducts background checks on all new camp residents.
Beavers said a letter from the city of Redmond, delivered to the church on Saturday, warned that unless the encampment moves, the city will impose on the church a $350-per-day fine to start in six days. If 30 days go by and the encampment has not moved, the city will increase the fine to $500 a day.
As the encampment moved in Saturday, a Redmond police cruiser stopped by occasionally, but there was no disorder and no neighborhood protest.
Church member Fiona Kinsella, 11, and her friend Danielle Skinner, 11, helped make 1,000 ham, turkey and cheese sandwiches last week for Tent City 4. On Saturday, they assisted in setting up the encampment.
"They shouldn't fine us for helping out and giving families a home," Fiona said.
Bruce Thomas, a Tent City 4 resident who coordinated the move, said the group plans to leave the site in 90 days. Next stop: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Bellevue.
Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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