9611 SE 36th Street
Mercer Island, WA 98040
Email: epermit.tech@merce. . .
Open to the public:
8:30 AM - 5:00 PM
on Mon, Tue, Thu, & Fri
10:30 AM - 5:00 PM on Wed
Tent City Information
For current news regarding Tent City, please click here.
Background and Frequently Asked Questions
Thank you for taking the time to understand the issues surrounding temporary homeless encampments and Tent City 4. The Mercer Island United Methodist Church hosted Tent City 4 from August to the beginning of November, 2008. The decision was supported by the faith community of Mercer Island. We hope the following information is helpful.
Q: What is Mercer Island doing about homelessness on the Eastside?
A: Mercer Island is actively involved in finding long term solutions for the homeless on the Eastside. Mercer Island is a member of ARCH, A Regional Coalition for Housing. ARCH supports a permanent solution for homeless and low income residents. Mercer Island is also the only eastside city that funds a separate human service department, “Youth and Family Services” to address housing issues. Staff from the City’s Youth and Family Services Department and from ARCH are participating in the 10 year plan for the Committee to End Homelessness. There are eight founding organizations including the Eastside Human Services Alliance, United Way of King County and Seattle-King County Coalition for the Homeless. Through ARCH, Mercer Island is participating in discussion with King County and other local cities to determine a best practices approach to responding to requests to locate tent city on public or private property.
Q: What is Tent City 4?
A: Tent City 4 is a group of homeless adults who share cooking and bathing facilities and sleep in tents. The managing agency is a non-profit organization called SHARE/WHEEL, phone number (206) 448-7889. SHARE/WHEEL is the combined advocacy efforts of the Seattle-Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) and the Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL). According to SHARE/WHEEL, most of the residents have jobs and are temporarily in need of housing. Their length of stay varies, but many residents stay only a few months or less. The typical stay is about six weeks, but there is no limit, and persons can reside in Tent City for as long as they have need.
Tent City 4 moves from location to location solely on the Eastside. The following cities on the Eastside have hosted Tent City 4: Bothell, Woodinville, Finn Hill, Kirkland (Kirkland Congregational Church, Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, Kirkland Congregational Church, Lake Washington United Methodist Church), Bellevue (Temple B’nai Torah and Episcopal Church of the Resurrection), Redmond (St. Jude Catholic Church) and Issaquah (The Community Church of Issaquah).
Q: Has there been an increase in crime associated with Tent City 4?
A: Cities that have hosted Tent City 4 have reported no greater incidence of crime than in the general population. The Mercer Island Police and Fire Departments closely monitored the Tent City site and its impact on the surrounding neighborhood and promptly responded to police, fire and medical assistance requests associated with Tent City.
Q: Can the City prohibit Tent City 4 from locating in Mercer Island?
A: No. There has been prior litigation involving Tent City 4 when located in the cities of Bothell, Kirkland and Bellevue in both King County Superior Court and the United States District Court. These decisions held that when a church wishes to use its property for the purpose of sheltering the homeless, this act constitutes religious expression and thus, is protected by both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Washington State Constitution. Although these same courts have recognized the government’s legitimate interest in enforcing its land use regulations, there is a constitutional balancing test that the city must apply in imposing its regulations. An outright ban is unconstitutional.
Q. What can the City do to protect the residents?
A: Although the above described constitutional protections prohibit the City from imposing regulations that constitute a restraint on religious protection, the City has asked the Mercer Island United Methodist Church and SHARE/WHEEL to enter into a voluntary Temporary Use Agreement regulating Tent City 4. This Agreement ensures the safe temporary use of the Church property and limits the duration of the homeless encampments to 93 days and no more than once a year.
Q: Was there be an opportunity for the public to comment?
A: The Mercer Island United Methodist Church and SHARE/WHEEL were required by the Agreement to provide notice to property owners within 600 feet of the hosting church and conducted a neighborhood public information meeting to answer all your questions. This meeting date, time and location was advertised in the Mercer Island Reporter. More information is also available through the church at (206) 232-3044 and on the church’s website: http://www.miumc.org/.
Q: What conditions did the City impose on the homeless encampment?
A: The Mercer Island United Methodist Church and SHARE/WHEEL will comply with Washington State and City codes concerning but not limited to drinking water connections, garbage, electrical systems, cooking and food handling and fire safety. SHARE/WHEEL requires its residents to comply with a Code of Conduct which has been incorporated into the Temporary Use Agreement. This code includes a policy of no tolerance of drugs, alcohol or weapons, fighting of any kind, littering or disturbing neighbors. All residents must sign an agreement to abide by this Code of Conduct and failure to do so results in immediate expulsion.
Q: What presence did the police have at the site?
A: The City’s number one goal regardless of the presence of Tent City 4 is to ensure public safety for all of our citizens. We pledge city resources to properly monitor and respond to issues. Mercer Island police officers made regular, routine walkthroughs of the Tent City site so that they were familiar with the residents and the routines of the camp. If necessary, officers conducted investigations and made arrests of those found to be in violation of criminal laws. Prior city hosts have found that Tent City 4 has kept its commitment to self-police and self-manage its residents in accordance with its Code of Conduct. Prior to allowing individuals to stay at Tent City, encampment managers screen potential residents for outstanding warrants and sex offender status. No sex offenders are allowed to reside in Tent City. Residents form an Executive Committee that is responsible for site security, resident identification and donations management. One member of the Executive Committee was on duty, awake and available 24 hours per day.
Q: Who pays for the additional support required by the police or other services that are required by Tent City?
A: Staff do not anticipate an appreciable increase in City expenditures due to the Tent City stay. That said, virtually all the costs of protecting the health, safety and welfare of citizens, under any circumstances, comes from the General Fund. The General Fund, in turn, is largely comprised of property and sales tax revenues. The City will commit whatever resources are necessary to protect the community at all times, including special events (e.g the annual Seafair festival), and temporary situations (like the 3-month Tent City encampment).
Q: How does Tent City 4 handle garbage and sanitation?
A: SHARE/WHEEL provides a dumpster for the handling of refuse and it is regularly collected. Regular patrols of tent city residents monitor the streets and sidewalks to ensure they are kept clean. Many previous neighbors have complimented the cleanliness of their street during the tenure of a tent city due to these regular patrols.
SHARE/WHEEL provides portable toilets sufficient to the needs of the residents which are regularly maintained. Hand washing stations are available adjacent to these toilets. King County Public Health performs site visits to inspect the maintenance and operations of the toilet facilities, garbage control, potable water, hand washing and safe food handling practices. Mercer Island code requires that Tent City comply with all such regulations.
Q: Are open fires allowed? Is fire prevention equipment available on site?
A: No open fires are allowed at the camp. Fire extinguishers are on site and posted according to the directive of the Mercer Island Fire Inspector. The Mercer Island Fire Department did an initial fire inspection and safety meeting at the camp and was available to assist with fire safety throughout their stay.
Q: How can I get more information?
A: For more information, please contact the Mercer Island United Methodist Church at (206) 232-3044 or visit the church’s website: http://www.miumc.org/.
To view the most current report from the Police Department regarding Tent City on Mercer Island, please click here.
NEW INFORMATION: At the July 21, 2008 council meeting, a Mercer Island citizen presented two reports of crime statistics related to Tent City, one from Kirkland and the other from Issaquah. Mercer Island Police Chief Ed Holmes reviewed the two reports and checked again with the police departments of Kirkland and Issaquah. To view the findings, please go to www.mercergov.org/TCPoliceReport.
NEW INFORMATION: A King County Superior Court judge on July 28 denied a request from a group of Mercer Island citizens to grant an injunction that would stop Tent City 4 from moving to the Mercer Island United Methodist Church on August 5. Judge Michael J. Fox cited five requirements for issuing a preliminary injunction and explained that the group which calls itself Mercer Island Citizens for Fair Process failed to prove that any of those requirements had been met.
NEW INFORMATION: To learn how Mercer Island's Temporary Use Agreement compares to conditions applied by other Eastside cities, please click here.
To view the agenda bill including the DRAFT Temporary Use Agreement presented to the Mercer Island City Council on June 16, 2008, please click here.
To view the final version of the Temporary Use Agreement, please click here.