Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Supporting Mercer Island Tent City

We all care about homelessness. Every one of us. But caring is easy; helping is hard. It occurs to me, now that Tent City 4 has moved into the parking lot of the Methodist Church, too many people are choosing another option: gain the respect of your community by showing that you care, even if it costs you nothing.

I should come out loudly in support of  Mercer Island Tent City.  Why not?  It doesn't affect me in the slightest. I don't live anywhere near the site, and I rarely if ever drive that way. It won't affect my property value one bit; the residents won't come anywhere near my children. Their honeybuckets tents might as well be in Seattle or Bellevue.

I looked through the various letters to the editor and online comments, and as far as I can tell, the "pro-tent" people are nearly all just like me. We live far enough away that we can afford to look approvingly at Tent City as a fine example of how Mercer Island comes together to help the less fortunate. And we can shake our heads with disapproval at that pesky minority who just don't have as much compassion as we do. Look at this recent letter to the editor:

I am amazed (and disappointed) at the actions and response of a vocal minority in opposition to TC4.

The writer lives in mid-Island, about 3 miles away, so he can afford to be disappointed.  But he's relatively kind compared to another supporter, from the South End (about as far from the site as you can be), who has these stern words for those nasty neighbors:

It is extremely disappointing to me to hear of the small group of Island residents who have sued to prevent Tent City 4 from coming here ["Mercer Islanders fighting Tent City," Local News July 24]. Why it is more difficult for them to look at Honey Buckets in use by the Tent City's residents than the numerous examples in constant use for residential remodels is beyond me.

Now that's the kind of pious self-righteous caring attitude we all should have!  But our mayor, who also lives far away, says it best:

After lengthy staff review, and discussions with the Mayors, Council members and community leaders of the other Tent City communities, I have concluded that Tent City has been an overall positive experience for their respective communities.

I whole-heartily agree! it's been a positive experience for everyone (like me) who lives far enough away from the site to remain blissfully unaffected.  I'm happy to speak out in favor of Tent City in Kirkland or Issaquah!  Mercer Island North End is many miles from me--I may as well speak out in favor of that one too.

That's why it seems to me the only people who are really entitled to strong opinions about Tent City are the neighbors -- they're the only ones directly affected.  What about Pastor Leslie Ann Knight, the most visible proponent of Tent City 4 on Mercer Island, who lives only half a block away?  I know she cares deeply about homelessness (just as we all do), but surely a teeny, tiny additional part of her interest in the project is balanced in her case by the rewards she gains to her career and her church, thanks to all the great visibility she's getting on TV and radio. She doesn't own her home, so she won't pay like her neighbors with property values, and without children at home she suffers little of the anxiety (real or imagined) of her neighbors.

There are a few neighbors who do speak out in favor of TC4, and good for them! I know of one woman who lives a few blocks away and thinks it's wonderful. This despite having been affected by previous burglaries and the occasional I-90 traveler who treats her lawn like a public restroom. She's a true supporter!  Similarly, a church member and homeowner who lives nearby is quoted in the paper supporting the opportunity to learn from TC4. But after searching online and through various letters to the editor, I couldn't find any other supporters who truly live near the site.  (Anyone can claim anonymously to be a neighbor so I discount them).  I'm sure there are some, and good for them, but it seems presumptuous and arrogant for me to judge the motivations of those neighbors who oppose TC4 and who have far more at stake than the rest of us.

Meanwhile there are great causes, like Farestart and many others, with solid track records helping the homeless. Are the pro-tent people supporting those organizations too ?  Before you rave about your long-distance support of Tent City, or criticize those oppose the project, or brag about how you're serving meals for a few hours before rushing back to hide in the safety of your home far away -- before you do all that, shouldn't you bear some humility and respect for the neighbors, the only ones who truly bear the full costs of Tent City?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How many City Council members live by tent city? That answer would be ZERO!