County agrees to commission on tent cities

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An advisory commission on homeless encampments should begin its work without any preconceived notions about whether roving tent cities are good public policy, an architect of the panel's authorizing legislation said yesterday.

The Metropolitan King County Council yesterday unanimously adopted Councilwoman Kathy Lambert's proposal for a 22-member commission made up mostly of citizens rather than human-services professionals.

Opponents of suburban tent cities had complained they were underrepresented in Councilwoman Carolyn Edmonds' earlier proposal for a 13-member commission. Edmonds' proposal called for four citizens and nine representatives of government agencies, human-services organizations and faith-based groups.

The Lambert ordinance calls for one representative from each of the 13 County Council districts, two members of community-based organizations, and representatives of Seattle, a suburban city and King County. Four nonvoting members will represent law enforcement, public health, and housing and homeless organizations.

Council members will nominate representatives from their districts to County Executive Ron Sims, who will submit a full slate to the County Council for its consideration.

The commission will conduct a "needs assessment" for homeless encampments, suggest guidelines for choosing sites and evaluate the pros and cons of privately owned and publicly owned locations. Its report is due Aug. 15.

The ordinance prohibits the county from identifying county-owned land for a tent city before Sept. 15.

Lambert said the process "allows the community to look clearly at the issue of homelessness and the need or not the need for tent encampments. We will not only get a report saying this is how we do this but maybe we shouldn't do this."

Edmonds, D-Shoreline, supported the amended ordinance, saying it "will have served the citizens of King County very well."

Edmonds proposed an advisory commission last month after a public uproar over Sims' plan to allow a new tent city at the county-owned Brickyard Road Park-and-Ride between Bothell and Woodinville. The encampment opened instead at St. Brendan Catholic Church in Bothell, but the controversy continues.

Tent-city opponents who asked the council to broaden the commission to include more citizens clashed yesterday with council members over the work ethic of the homeless and the motives of tent-city sponsors.

One of them, Norm Milliard, who lives across the street from the tent city at St. Brendan church, said the new commission shouldn't include members of "this industry that makes its livelihood off homelessness. If they didn't have homelessness, they wouldn't have a job."

Milliard also said some tent-city residents have turned down job offers because they didn't want to jeopardize their unemployment checks.

County Councilman Dwight Pelz said he doubted that Scott Morrow, a staffer of tent-city sponsor SHARE/WHEEL has "made $20,000 in a given year in the past 25 years. ... I'm really hopeful that you and your family live on more than $20,000 a year."

Councilman Bob Ferguson, who recently spent the night at a tent city in Lake City, said several men in his tent got up very early in the morning to go to work.

"I can assure you that the majority of the people out there are working. They are the working poor," Ferguson said.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or