Friday, April 13, 2012

Tent City 3's Impact at Seattle Pacific University

If you read my earlier post about Seattle Pacific University hosting Tent City 3 from January 23 to March 24 of this year, you know that I am impressed by how my alma mater demonstrated their motto, Engaging the Culture, Changing the World. After several years of dialog and preparation, SPU opened Wallace Field for a temporary home for residents of Tent City 3. I called Jeff Jordan, Vice President of Student Life, to ask him about the students' involvement and the impact this arrangement had on the students and the Tent City 3 community. Here's what he had to say.

SPU hosted Tent City 3 to provide a space and services for its residents, but they wanted to do more than that. They also wanted the students and the community to learn about homelessness through forums. More on that later. And they wanted to bring a part of SPU to Tent City 3. Before TC3 arrived, they explored ways that students could share friendship with their temporary guests.

For the nine weeks Tent City 3 was housed on campus the students and cooperating churches sponsored chess tournaments, hosted a knitting club, held common reading sessions, visited, served a hot meal each night, provided some basic health care, and found other creative ways to say, "You are part of us." The athletic department held a sock drive, and passed out tickets to the basketball games. Some of the musicians from TC3 performed live on SPU's radio station, KSPU. (You can listen here.) Students and residents worked on a joint art project that will be displayed on campus.

In their move from their previous encampment in Shoreline their library was ruined. SPU's Ivy Honorary Club donated 300 books to Tent City 3 and plastic bins in which to store and transport them.

Several forums on homelessness were held on campus, bringing together students, staff, Tent City 3 residents and members of the community. Topics included The Gospel and Homelessness, Homelessness: a Crisis of Affordable Housing, and Growing Up Homeless. About 150 people attended a forum put on by Tent City 3 called The Homeless in Seattle: What Do We Want? with presenters who are either homeless or who work on their behalf.

During their stay there were several university classes in which Tent City 3 residents were asked to participate. To all the requests that were made of them -- to share in a class, to allow a school class to come and visit, to have the Girl Scouts come and spend a couple of hours with them, groups who wanted to make donations of one kind or another to the TC3 community -- they gladly agreed. According to Jeff Jordan, they were incredibly appreciative of the support they received. And as their time neared an end, they didn't want to leave.

One of the issues in serving the homeless community is the concern for safety. The Queen Anne community, parents and students were given opportunities to voice their questions early on and learn of the many steps the university had taken to ensure the safest possible experience during Tent City 3's stay on campus, things like speaking with police from the former TC3 locations and setting up communication between TC3 security and SPU security. Great care was taken to ensure the safety to students and visitors alike.

"Tent City 3 is incredibly structured," Jeff Jordan told me. "They have a one-stike-and-you're-out policy. And they rely on the good graces of their host." So they too strive for a safe and peaceful environment. There were a handful of minor medical issues during TC3's stay and two times when an outsider came into the encampment to harass a former spouse, but those issues were quickly resolved.

When moving day rolled around, says Jordan, it was hard to say good-bye to these friends. But on Saturday, March 24, at 8:00 in the morning, there was a huge community response. Hallows Church from the Fremont neighborhood arrived with a U-Haul to supplement the trucks that Tent City 3 rent for their moves, and many students and neighbors came as well. By 5:30 they were settling in well at their new home, St Mark's Episcopal on Capital Hill.

Will Tent City 3 ever return to SPU? "We're open to the conversation for their return," says Jordan.

1 comment:

Joan Husby said...

A great followup, Ginger. I too am proud of our Alma Mater.