Larry Osterman's WebLog

Confessions of an Old Fogey
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Not in my backyard, you don't!

Not in my backyard, you don't!

  • Comments 39

A bit of context for those of you who aren’t in the Seattle area.

Recently, a local church in Bothell decided to host a homeless shelter known as “Tent City 4”.  This decision caused a great deal of consternation on the part of the people living around the church, and the city of Bothell sued to force the church to close the tent city.  There’s been a bunch of going around about it, and eventually another church, the Northshore United Church of Christ agreed to host the homeless shelter.

It turns out that the Northshore United Church of Christ is located across the street from a local Junior High School, and down the street from the elementary school my daughter Sharron attends.

Last night, they had a public meeting about the church, which was attended by about 200 people.  One of the attendees was John Gronquist, who later on wrote the following email message in response to an “Oooh, they’re going to stick homeless people in OUR neighborhood, we’ve got to stop them!” email message.

Hi all!


Normally I can't stand people who "reply all", but since you've taken the liberty of emailing everyone with your views, it's only fair that at least one counter view is allowed a chance to speak. This email was forwarded to me by my wife's account so there's a chance I've missed any discussion which was spurred from TinyWeeHobbit's mail. Sorry in advance for all those who don't want to be involved..


I live off of 168th, and have two young children. I've also visited Tent City in Bothell and seen it with my own eyes. I've also looked up the stats of the abuses in Bothell, as well as the 2003 crime statistics for the city of Woodinville as a whole.. Rather surprising those were. Did you know that there were 83 counts of domestic violence in Woodinville in 2003? That there were 6 forcible rapes? 21 residential Burglaries? 67 Vehicle thefts? 6 arsons?? MY GOD! Someone should do something! Someone should keep all of Woodinville away from Woodinville!!


Compared to the average small town Tent City's crime stats are really low. It's more actively patrolled than our neighborhood currently is, has more active social programs visiting it to check up on problems, and unlike most neighbors they have a REASON to try and behave themselves, because believe it or not the vast majority of them really do want to show that they can make something of themselves and not be simply 'drains on society'.


As a landowning member of the neighborhood and a father I support the Tent City. I'm not going to say that there's no risk at all, that'd be foolish. But I will say that the risk is low, actively managed, and ultimately worth it.


Every night I drive down 168th and see the signs, as do my children.. In fact, another neighbor's children were holding signs last night and cursed me out when I failed to honk in support of their protest. Signs in support of the tent city have strangely been removed and/or defaced. Odd that. Interesting that one of the key arguments against the Tent City is that it'd cause 'litter, vandalism, and profanity' in the neighborhood. So far the only litter, vandalism, and profanity I've encountered, has been from the protesters against the tent city. Clearly there's some key difference I'm missing..


In any case, one sign in particular seems to be the 'big deal'. That there was a "Level 2 Sex Offender found in Bothell Tent City!!" Well, there's a level 2 sex offender living on 165th right now. RIGHT NOW! You can find her name doing a search in the King Country Sheriff's Sex Offender search by zip code. Not sure how long she's been there, but then, it is a free nation supposedly, and people who've served their punishment normally are considered a chance to start their lives over, and not suffer the rest of their lives for their crimes.. That's normally the case, unless, it appears, you've had the misfortune of not being able to get a job after leaving jail, due, I'm sure, in no part to prejudice about hiring previous offenders.


By the way, you can also find the names of every homeless or transient sex offender registered in the state, which is the same list that the guards working at the tent city will be looking up whenever a new person arrives. Can you say the same of the road on which you live? Do you demand to see the names of each new neighbor and look them up in the Sex Offender database when they move in? Great way to be a popular neighbor, I'd wager.. "Oh, sorry, we can't talk to you until we've looked up every bad thing you've ever done, even if you've served your time for it, and parade it before everyone in the neighborhood so they can shun you as well. Give you a chance? Sorry, can't chance it."


By the way, did you know that one of our neighbor's illegally burns his garbage right across the street from Leota Jr. high, sending toxic clouds of smoke from burning plastics and god knows what into the air every single week we've all lived there? He does it at night, and on weekends, so at least his only is poisoning the after hours programs.. I won't name names, but the police have been repeatedly called, and still there's no sign of a garbage can in front of the house on Fridays, and the lovely smell of toxic fumes wafting through my yard and house and into my children's lungs on a continual basis. This neighbor owns a home though, so I guess illegally burning garbage on regular basis is okay. Have to say though, the night he burned lightbulbs and they went off sounding like 6 gunshots during a dinner party we were having was especially disturbing.


Sorry.. ..I just figured that since we're involved in a little game of shunning people for the no legitimate reason, I'd get my digs in as well..


As far as the 'worth it' argument, I've only this to add..


I won't live in fear. Not of neighbors with 'histories', not of neighbors with irrational fears of the unknown, nor of terrorists, nor of polluting whackjobs who won't spend $16 a month to put the garbage out on the street instead of into my kid's lungs..


We almost lost our youngest child to E. Coli when he was 1 year old from a hamburger at a state fair. THAT'S fear. That's horror the likes of which most of you will never know. Did anyone do anything to clean up our meat industry? NO. It was up to us to protect ourselves, as it always is for any family from any threat from anywhere they live.


I won't live in fear, and I won't teach it to my children. Life is to short and precious and full of wonders to live like that, and I've nothing but honest concern for those who do.


We need to be a part of solving the problems of this nation, instead of pushing them off for future generations or other neighborhoods to deal with. If you're really worried about the security of the Tent City, volunteer for night guard duty. Maybe I'll see you there?


In any case, I apologize for those to whom this mail is mere spam.


John Gronquist

John is absolutely right.  The decision to object to the hosting of the tent city in Woodinville is backed by nothing but FUD.  The real dangers associated with the tent city are nowhere NEAR as bad as the dangers associated with just living in Woodinville (not exactly a high-crime area).  Having homeless people in your neighborhood makes people uncomfortable.  It reminds them that there are people in our society that AREN’T middle class with nice homes and nice cars.  The danger represented by the homeless is an excuse to justify the classist (not racist, but classist) discrimination.

I find it SO frustrating that people can’t bring themselves to actually understand that just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean that their morals and values are any different from anyone else. Just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean that they are evil and must be avoided.  We should be trying to HELP these people get back on their feet and not hurting them.  Places like Tent City 4 give people dignity.  It gives them an address and a phone number that they can use as a reference.  It gives them a place they can shower before they go to their interview.  If you’re homeless you can’t even get a job at McDonalds because you can’t meet the cleanliness requirements of the restaurant.  We don’t have public toilets and showers here on the eastside.  We don’t have enough shelter space for the homeless right now, and shutting down things like tent city only increase this problem.

At a minimum, the shelter is only going to be open for six weeks.  Is the presence of the shelter SO intolerable that you can’t even abide its presence for 6 weeks?

I’m ecstatic that the United Church of Christ stepped up to the plate to host Tent City 4; I only wish others would understand.

Addendum:  The City of Woodinville graciously stepped up and donated the use of several acres of unused city property for the shelter, thus rendering the issue of locating the tent city in a residential area moot.  


Edit: Removed comments because the post was becoming a forum for the anti-tent city people.  Once this post exceeds the comment time limit (sometime next month), I'll re-enable comments so people can see the other comments that have been made on the article.



  • I agree 100%. This reminds me of when my mother-in-law got involved in preventing her city from planning some 'affordable housing' too close to her home. Heaven forbid that somebody earning less money than her (but obviously trying to work and do better for themselves) should move in too close and drive down her property value. I firmly believe there should be appropriate checks and precautions for such ventures, but last time I checked we still live in a free country that still claimed such ideals as innocent until proven guilty, and not being punished twice for the same crime.
  • You're absolutely right Larry.

    What are you doing to help them?
  • Good email, and good post.

    First, Scott, what Larry is doing to help them is offering tolerance and time for them to prove they aren't what people think. The stereotypical homeless man or woman begs, constantly, never works, never showers, and doesn't want to. They were too lazy to do it right in the first place, why would they start now? That's completely wrong. Most folks that I know ended up that way because of the way life is.

    I was homeless for two months at sixteen. I've slept in a dumpster, run from the cops, and tried to survive when no one would give me a second chance. The only reason I broke the cycle is because a friend of mine searched for me, found me, and extended me a place to stay once he found out my father had kicked me out. That gave me the ability to shower, to plan, to receive correspondence, and the confidence that life would be okay.

    Society -- civilization -- is about the group looking out for the individuals. We give up power and rights in order to have the police established. We give up finances in order to establish a government. We all give up pieces of our live in order to ensure that we all have what we need. Society isn't about advancement of the arts on their own; it's about advancement of the arts as it benefits society. Elaborate as you will.

    The only thing keeping any of us from becoming homeless is our skill, our luck, and our families and friends.

    I know that I never wanted food just given to me. I've never wanted anything just given to me. I want to work for it, learn it, earn it.

    As for the prejudice Larry mentioned in terms of convicted sex offenders -- if you do the math you can figure out that homeless at sixteen doesn't give me great chances of graduating from high school. I didn't. I dropped out -- I had no home, nowhere to go -- and got a GED a year later.

    To this day -- 12 years later -- I still suffer prejudice from actions I had to take to survive because of the decisions I made then. I'm not the smartest bulb in the pack by any means, but I survive, and I'm more loyal to those who aid me than anyone else I know. Sometimes people need to learn to look past the exterior and look inside a person.

    The steel holding a homeless person together can be reforged. Any man or woman who has suffered personal devastation knows that it is a dead end, and will do their damnedest to never reach that level again.

    I apologize for the length. I feel pretty strongly about this issue.
  • Just a couple things.

    This gives them a place to stay:
    We all pay GENEROUS taxes to pay for MANY, MANY programs that give the homeless food and shelter. One key element is that you have to be clean and sober to stay in a gov't shelter. People who can't stay either - aren't allowed to stay there. So when you run across a homeless person that isn't in a shelter, it's because they aren't helping themselves. So you can be 100% sure that every person there either has a significant drug and/or alcohol problem.

    They have the same morals as us:
    People in this position don't particularly have anything to lose and tend to be more desperate - that's sort of common sense. Also an unusually high percentage of homeless people have some sort of mental illness. So you will see people that are MUCH more likely to rape, molest or be violent - right across the street from your little girl.

    I guess I'm a HUGE believer of using the EXISTING SERVICES that are already in place and that we pay good taxes towards. There should be no need for churches to offer things like this - if these people would stay clean.

    Just bringing up a different viewpoint... I'm not saying you are an irresponsible parent for allowing your little girl to go to school right across from where these people are - but if something happens to her (God forbid) - I hope you will be able to justify it with your good intentions right now.
  • I live a block from the current tent city in Bothell. I've gone over to visit repeatedly. People who automatically think that the homeless are scumbags simply because they are homeless infuriate me.

    Dreben clearly hasn't bothered to visit the homeless, or he wouldn't write such ignorant NIMBY crap about them. Have you looked into the "existing services"? Do you know for a fact that they are adequate? Guess what, they aren't. They don't fill the need in the homeless community for a safe place to stay. Dreben reminds me of Scrooge: "Are there no prisons? Are there no poorhouses?" There are, Dreben, but they aren't enough. That's what Tent City is out to remind people.

    Saying that every homeless person who doesn't live in a shelter has a drug or alcohol problem is terribly ignorant. Saying that all of them are automatically violent or mentally ill is insulting and also ignorant. God forbid you ever end up on the street, dreben. Lord knows that anyone who let a child near YOU would be irresponsible. Heck, I wouldn't let a child near you now.

    For the record, the neighborhood has had NO problems with Tent City, despite the NIMBY garbage you hear from the loudmouths in that stupid hate organization. There have been arrests, yes. They were all instigated by Tent City, not by the neighborhood. In other words, they are self-policing and doing a fine job of it. I'd rather have Tent City as a neighbor in the future than the hate-filled so-called Christians at Heritage Christain School. At least the people in Tent City are honest.
  • While there are government services available, most estimates for the Seattle area estimate capacity at less than 80% of the need. In other words, about 20% of the people who are clean, sober and willing to listen to a preacher (or do whatever hoops necessary to get inside) cannot be served because there is not room.

    You leave the shelter in the morning, have a few hours to do whatever you can, but you need to be back standing in line to get a bed again. You'll spend easily as much time standing in line for your bed as you do sleeping in it.

    If you don't have an address to park your belongings, meager though they might be, they have to come with you to any potential job interview. If you don't have the money for food, you are unlikely to spend it frequently on washing your clothing, especially in a laundramat where it can cost easily $5 to get one load of laundry clean.

    I think everyone agrees that we'd prefer that the poor disappear into some oblivion that we don't have to watch. I think it would make everyone feel even better if there were no one who had to do without. Our homeless are still doing so much better than the poor in other countries like India or Africa.

    Nobody wants the poor, and few people are willing to pay the money necessary to eradicate half of the homeless people, much less a majority of the homeless. Most people don't want to be homeless and are willing to work very hard to keep themselves above water. Life happens sometimes, and it's hard to get back on your feet.

    How's the affordable housing in your neighborhood? How many units can be had that are tiny (big enough for a bed, a hotplate and not much else) with perhaps a shared bathroom for little enough money that you can work at McDonalds, pay your rent and still have money for food? Part of the problem is that the next step up from being homeless is a giant leap. It's not cost effective to make these tiny units, and even when someone is willing to build them, people don't want them in their neighborhoods because they are concerned that the drug addicts, etc will move in.

    We don't want homeless people in our sight. We don't want homeless people in our neighborhoods, even those trying to get back on their feet. We don't want to pay enough taxes to "warehouse" the homeless people.

    Homeless people are people first. As with any large group of people, their morals run the gamut. Poor people do crimes just as other people do. One of the key differences is that the richer people's crimes tend to affect a great many more people. My job is to protect myself from criminals as best I can, regardless of how they are dressed.

    As for me, I donate $50 every month to Modest Needs <>. They try to aid people at the step just before they get in too deep. I'd rather keep people above homeless than try to get them out of it.
  • Scott Wrote:
    >>What are you doing to help them?

    Obvious - he is taking a stand in public, in a forum where he is well known and held in respect. It is likely to influence some folks to think about this issue, and perhaps help.

  • Good on you Larry
  • Laura,

    I'll do my best not to call you names in return - but allow me to explain. You and Larry seem to have this "puppydogs and ice cream" view of the homeless situation. And since this is church-oriented, this may be accurate for your "tent" thing. Maybe the people in that neighborhood ARE the small percentage that really are trying and really do want to better themselves?

    I've have and had several friends over the years that have worked at alcohol/drug rehabilitation center and other gov't sponsored programs. I can say that from the countless stories I've heard - what you are describing is BY FAR the exception and not the rule. I also have a good friend who has a homeless guy who does work for them - and the stories I hear from him.

    The 2% of people that are both willing and capable of getting off the street have AMPLE programs available (ranging from detox to job placement).. it's all there, laid out in front of them. As for the rest, they are either unable or unwilling - and those reasons, are what make them a volatile part of our society.

    I too, hope I'm never in that situation.. and I can tell you, if I were that desperate - you are right, I probably shouldn't be around you or your family - because I may rob you!!

    My bottom line, is that a HUGE majority of these homeless people are **NOT** "people" like you and me. The MAJORITY are people that have limited to severe mental disability, are people that have a significant drug or alcohol problem.. but probably most significantly, are either unwilling or incapable of bettering themselves. Although that probably sounds unreasonable to you - you think "Oh, they just need the right kind of help" - unfortuntely, in the real world - that's just the way it is. There are REALLy people like that - that REALLY can't be helped, no matter how much that may seem that it's not right.

    I'm not saying we should shoo them under the rug, but I am saying that in our "civilized" society, that needs to be effectively managed. And bringing in the center of suburbia is not the greatest idea, in my book.

    What else can we do then? I don't know. I do know, that many of the programs that are available (typically in the urban areas) are effective (given that the people aren't "playing the system" as they often do.

    I guess you won't really have this view until you've seen any of this first-hand.. Until then, I honestly hope these are the less-desperate, humble people staying in the tent - for your family's safety.

    Good luck.
  • I thought about this more.

    Let me ask this. By bringing the homeless into suburbia - "what do you hope to gain?" - what is the ideal here, what does all of this accomplish (or hope to accomplish).
  • Drebin, it's supposed to accomplish exactly what it's accomplishing right now: bringing the issues surrouding homelessness to the fore so that, hopefully, we can put together the political will to address the fundamental problem of affordable housing.

    To those people who don't want Tent City 4 in their back yard, I say do something about affordable housing or quit your bellyaching.

  • drebin: I'd bet that most of the people with problems AREN'T living in tent city. They are wandering around lower Queen Anne (I stayed over there for a few months, some of the street people are interesting to say the least) or in Pioneer Square and Occidental Park (If anyone doesn't know where these places are you don't live in Seattle or the surrounding area so how can you comment on tent city?)

    Valorie: It's easy to take a stand. Doing something is harder. Using the royal "we" when speaking about the homeless just gives rise to the kinds of NIMBY problems we are discussing in this comment thread.

    Brian: Sadly most Seattle-ites only contact with the homeless are with the regulars manning the exit ramps in and around town begging for money. We've tried to give them our leftovers a couple of times, but they've refused saying they wanted money instead even though the sign said "need money for food". That's the problem, the people that could really USE the help to get themselves out of their situation aren't visible enough.
  • What the heck is he thinking &raquo; Tent City
  • Scott, you do know that Valorie's my wife?

    And your point touched home (as it should).

    As individuals, we're not DOING enough to solve this problem. The donations to modestneeds help, as do the other charities we contribute to, but you're right, we should ALL do more. Even if it means showing up at town meetings to try to change peoples minds, or if it means taking in someone until they get on their feet, we DO need to do more.

    And Rick is also right - if you're planning on fighting AGAINST things like Tent City 4, then what are you doing to prevent the NEED for camps like Tent City 4?
  • "I guess you won't really have this view until you've seen any of this first-hand."

    Dreben, I've visited the Tent City in Bothell REGULARLY. I've seen what kind of people live there first-hand. So I know for absolute certain that your dismissal of them in your first post was ignorant and incorrect.

    You don't seem to get that bit. I HAVE FIRST-HAND KNOWLEDGE OF THE SITUATION. You apparently are judging them by other standards that involve "several friends over the years" and no first-hand knowledge at all. You do realize that "well, a friend told me" doesn't cut it in this kind of an argument, right?

    I've seen more nastiness and been more harrassed by the jokers who are opposed to Tent City than I've seen from any of the residents of Tent City.

    "what do you hope to gain?"

    First off, I have nothing to do with Tent City, so I don't hope to gain anything from it. Indeed, I've been told by ignorant people that my property values will go down if Tent City becomes a regular fixture, with my neighborhood as one of the regular rotating sites. I apparently have a lot to lose.

    What the organizers apparently hope to gain is just what Rick says, putting the problems in front of the people who actually have the money and will to do something about it instead of hiding it in streets in the big city that most of us will never visit. It's to raise awareness, and it's an extremely political method. The people who protest it are doing exactly what Tent City wants and needs them to do, because it brings people like me out of the woodwork to tell the NIMBYs to shut up and step up to the plate to fix the problems instead of whining about how dangerous the homeless are.
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