A problem as common as it is misunderstood, homelessness continues to be an issue in Seattle. Despite efforts made by Seattle city government,there is still tremendous work to be done. Poll results from this year’s most recent election show that 60 percent of Seattle University’s student body strongly agree, or agree that the Student Government of Seattle University (SGSU) should take steps toward hosting another tent city. This is not the first time Seattle U has done this, and recently plenty of other institutions have been inspired by
Even though tent cities are not a permanent place for residents to stay, they do provide safer alternatives for those who have none. Seattle U hosted Tent City in 2005, while Seattle Pacific University hosted Tent City during the 2012 and 2015 winter quarters. Now, the University of Washington is considering the possibility of hosting a tent city during the winter quarter of 2017.
Sally Reid, director of regional and community relations for UW, said that Seattle U has played a part in their decision making.
“Seattle University faculty and staff have been so generous with their time and advice. I don’t think we’d be this far in our consideration without their help,” Reid said. “It means a lot to be able to ask questions about what worked well and not so well when SU hosted tent camps.”
Paul DeWater, Vice President of University Affairs for SGSU, said the most important part of understanding tent camps is understanding the mission they live by.
“They are self-governed, they have a strong set of rules in the encampment, and they are very responsible. That shows that the members in the camps assure they treat their site with respect and care,” DeWater said.
DeWater said many within the school helped make it a successful experience. The College of Nursing administered physicals, Albers School of Business hosted financial seminars, and Seattle U’s School of Law educated Tent City members about their rights as homeless citizens in the city.
When Tent City 3, the roving homeless encampment, moved from El Centro de la Raza community center on Beacon Hill to Seattle U’s tennis courts on Jan. 29, 2005, there was very little opposition.
Associate Director for Support Operations for Seattle U’s Public Safety Craig Birklid remembers how the movement had a lot of support.Birklid commented on the other non-organized homeless camps that are along I-5 between South Dearborn Street and Lucile Street.
“There was a lot of fear around this idea when it was proposed, and the stories around it were connected to the Jungle by Beacon Hill, but that was not the case with these [groups] of people, not even close to the experience we had,” he said. “SU students and staff regularly served meals, it was a good opportunity for those people to get good nutritious food without having to travel too far in the city.”
Stereotypes of people experiencing homelessness are widely used to justify why they should remain on the streets.
“They were there to try and be successful, they were not interested in being out in the street or an unsafe space, and for them working together to create a community in a safe way was really important,” Birklid said. “A lot of them had jobs they went to and came back at the end of the day. You almost have to create a safe place for folks to live—most people often take that for granted that we can close our door at the end of the night.”
According to freshman environmental science major Vincent Mai, it is good that Seattle U seeks to create an opportunity for those who have no safe place to live.
“It is nice to see that the school is giving a place for others to feel welcomed and safe. I think that it sends a message to what this school cares about.”
This summer and fall, SGSU will begin creating a proposal regarding how Seattle U can be more engaged with this issue. Validating other people’s experiences is important, DeWater said, adding that “our work here is
Taking actions by exploring this idea remains a priority, and SGSU is thinking of how they can integrate this issue into next year’s curriculum. DeWater said that the “Common Text” is one viable option of how to engage more students, and also said that once the decision is made, students should expect to see some changes the following school year.
“SU has an opportunity to engage with its mission, and help spread values of justice and service within its community,” DeWater said.
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