Williamsburg's Homeless & Indigent

P.O. Box 366, Lightfoot, VA 23090
Office: 757-561-3255
"Assisting people in re-gaining hope and a better way of life."

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Tent city can stay in Bothell - Judge rules that homeless encampment won't have to leave church property
by Jeff Switzer
Journal Reporter

A heavily scrutinized encampment for 80 homeless men and women won't have to leave church land in Bothell, a King County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday.

``It's a victory for Tent City 4, no doubt about it,'' said Ted Hunter, attorney for Seattle-based organizers of the nomadic encampment.

In a lawsuit by the city of Bothell against organizers of Tent City 4 and host St. Brendan Catholic Church, officials sought an immediate eviction of the camp and other strict concessions.

Superior Court Judge Steven Scott said the camp can stay, but still needs to get a permit from the Bothell City Council.

It's unclear what would happen if the City Council said ``no.''

The city had failed to prove the city's zoning laws and duty to protect health, safety and welfare of residents outweighed the church's right to exercise its religion by providing shelter to the homeless, he said.

The initial ruling was praised by the city, though Bothell's request for an injunction would have sent Tent City 4 packing.

``Judge Scott ruled that Tent City will not have to shut down, but also ruled the city of Bothell does have the right to require a permit and have St. Brendan comply with the zoning code,'' said city spokeswoman Joyce Goedeke. ``It seems positive for both sides.''

Tent City moved into Bothell on May 17, bringing about 30 residents to church land on Northeast 195th Street, next door to Heritage Christian School, across from St. Brendan Parish School and a block from Maywood Hill Elementary. The camp can stay for 90 days and grow to 100 people.

City officials argued the camp required a permit. St. Brendan Church officials have argued that federal rules bar local governments from imposing burdensome permit regulations on churches.

Church officials have now requested the city grant a special permit to allow the homeless camp. The issue will be decided by the Bothell City Council.

After neighbors raised concerns, city officials further asked Tent City organizers to pay police overtime or security, force homeless people to give police proof of identification to prove they aren't wanted felons or sex offenders, and provide a $1 million bond against damages and liability.

Such provisions were hotly contested for setting a bad precedent and hampering all future tent cities, especially for smaller churches, said Rod Harmon, attorney for St. Brendan Church.

Scott said he would rule on those provisions Tuesday.

Recent arrests connected to the homeless encampment make it a nuisance, said Bothell City Attorney Mike Weight. ``In just three weeks time, there have been five arrests involving Tent City residents,'' he said.

Among the police actions, some residents had outstanding police warrants, a sex offender was found and asked to leave, and one woman was found with a drug pipe in her tent Sunday.

``I don't know what you've cited in the last few weeks is different from what occurs in any urban community,'' Judge Scott said.

Weight said such incidents in other cases would prompt police to declare a house a drug house.

None of the incidents led to harm or injuries, said Hunter, attorney for Tent City.

Still, Bothell Police have patrolled the area and parked outside the camp around the clock, racking up more than $21,000 in overtime, a bill the city wants St. Brendan Catholic Church or organizers to pay.

Tent City security and protocols, though sometimes delayed, has resulted in barring unwanted residents from camp, Tent City organizers SHARE/WHEEL say.

Forcing homeless people to show police their identification without justification violates their Constitutional rights, Hunter said.

That move would single out and stereotype a class of people just because they don't have a home, Harmon said.

``Processes already exist for police to do their job,'' Harmon said.

Some compromise to ease city concerns should be found, Scott said, and attorneys for all sides agreed that Tent City organizers would call police when rejecting or ejecting a resident, and allow police in the camp's common areas.

Agreed-to conditions include limiting the camp to 100 people, and one camp in Bothell at a time. Children can be overnight in the camp only in an emergency. Health and fire officials can inspect the camp.

The court hearing will resume Tuesday at 9 a.m.


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