At the Feb. 7 Sammamish City Council meeting, the council granted Tent City 4 an additional duration of emergency stay until April 7, 2023. Without this extension, Tent City 4’s residents would have faced harsh weather conditions at an interim location and the disruption of an additional move.
Tent City 4 is a sanctioned homeless encampment that operates under the nonprofits Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) and Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL). Tent Cities are self-managed camps with a strict code of conduct for residents. The camps routinely relocate to new sites about every four months. Tent City 4 is currently located at Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Sammamish.
Tent City 4 has operated on and off in Sammamish since 2013. Tent City 4’s current Sammamish permit was set to begin on Oct. 18 and end on Feb 18. Prior to that, their last Sammamish permit was from Jan. to May 2020. Each permit allows a stay of 120 days, after which the city cannot grant a new permit for at least 18 months.
Tent City 4 plans to relocate next to Our Savior Lutheran Church in Issaquah, but accommodations there will not be ready until mid-March, leaving about a 30-day gap in residence. As an interim solution, Tent City 4’s only option would be to relocate to the High Point Way Trailhead at exit 20 off of I90 in Issaquah, but this location is especially harsh in the winter. Tent City 4 hoped to extend its permit in Sammamish and avoid living in the emergency conditions posed by winter weather.
Eight-year Sammamish resident Cindy Sattler brought this matter to attention at the Feb. 7 City Council meeting with the goal of extending Tent City 4’s permit to remain at Mary Queen of Peace until Our Savior Lutheran Church is ready to host. Sattler only recently became aware of Tent City 4’s residence at Mary Queen of Peace despite living close by, which she said speaks to how well the camp is run, managed, and maintained.
Sattler also pointed out that the alternate temporary location at High Point Way is between a mountain and a highway, exposed to poor weather conditions, and surrounded by steep terrain, and that it does not offer electricity, heat, water, or regular access to transportation.
“Your vote to extend the stay of Tent City 4 means that you are giving a group of people the gift of time–in the coldest, wettest, time of year–to not have to relocate now and then [again] in a few weeks,” said Sattler.
A draft of an emergency ordinance regarding Tent City 4’s permit was introduced by David Pyle, Director of the Community Development Department. Pyle explained the city’s permit process and requirements for an emergency extension, which includes a public hearing no more than 60 days after the ordinance is passed. The draft, requested by the city council, outlined an emergency ordinance for consideration to extend the permit duration to April 7.
Mary O’Brien, founder of Arbor Montessori School, which sits next to Tent City 4, is against the renewal of the permit. Arbor Montessori spends $550 per day to hire a security guard to accommodate concerned families and staff, which will amount to an additional $16,500 if the permit is extended. O’Brien also expressed concern that Tent City 4 hadn’t prioritized securing a new location far enough in advance of the permit expiring.
O’Brien and Arbor Montessori have raised no objection to Tent City 4’s emergency extension requests during previous stays at Mary Queen of Peace. However, she believes this current extension request is due to a lack of planning, not to an emergency.
“The use of this fake emergency to justify unlawful action by the city council–it’s not an emergency. To change the terms of the permit is disingenuous,” O’Brien said.
Tent City 4 camp advisor Steve Pert, who was present at the meeting, said that Tent City 4 efforts to secure locations are ongoing, however the reason for not having a confirmed location by the permit expiration date was not due to lack of planning, but to the difficulty of finding hosts.
“As a camp and as a resident our biggest challenge is finding new sites to go to. It is a constant challenge that keeps the camp in a state of emergency,” Pert wrote in an email to the Sammamish Independent.
Tent City 4 has been in communication with councilmembers for several Eastside cities in addition to Sammamish, as well as the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) to negotiate terms for locations, duration of residence, and duration of absence before they can return, Pert wrote.
Tent City 4’s ultimate goal is to find an unoccupied lot of land on the Eastside where they can reside for at least one year. According to Pert, this would allow residents of Tent City 4 to find and retain local employment, which is often derailed by frequent moves.
Several representatives from Issaquah’s Spirit of Peace United Church of Christ, a potential future host for the camp, spoke in support of extending the permit, citing the benefit of time allowing the camp to relocate just once to Our Savior Lutheran Church.
Council member Pamela Stuart stressed that an immediate decision was necessary, as the original permit was set to expire 11 days after the meeting. Because a tent city move takes about seven days to execute, if the ordinance was not passed at the meeting, Tent City 4 would then have to immediately begin their move to the temporary High Point Trailhead site. Stuart explained that granting the emergency extension would provide adequate time for Tent City 4 to safely and effectively organize a move to their preferred location.
Councilmember Karen Howe made a motion to revisit the ordinance on Feb. 14, one week following the meeting, to give time for members of Tent City 4 and their neighbors, including staff and parents of Arbor School and Mary Queen of Peace, to negotiate the terms of Tent City 4’s stay, but after a 1-6 vote this motion was denied.
Stuart made the motion to approve the ordinance of temporarily amending the Sammamish municipal code to grant Tent City 4 an additional duration of emergency stay, not to exceed April 7th, 2023. This also included scheduling a public hearing within 60 days of the decision, which is required by state law. The council voted unanimously 7-0 in favor and the ordinance was approved.
A recording of the Feb. 7 Sammamish City Council meeting is available for viewing on the City of Sammamish’s YouTube channel.