The fallout over the arrest of a rape suspect at Tent City 4 has led to a split between its Seattle-based parent organization SHARE and residents of the homeless camp now located at Kirkland’s St. John Vianney Church.
SHARE, or Seattle Housing and Resource Effort, objected to an agreement residents of the camp made with parish officials to begin random weekly checks for sex offenders, according to camp residents. The pact was made after Kirkland police last week arrested at the camp 35-year-old Robert Bruce McKay-Erskine, charged on Nov. 8 in Pierce County with aggravated first-degree child rape.
Sandra Hunt of Kirkland, who with her husband Randy Hunt serves as supply coordinator for the camp, said residents had asked her to notify the media of the split and a change in the name of the camp. Henceforth it will be named Camp Unity Eastside.
Hunt said SHARE, founded and run by homeless and formerly homeless people in Seattle, has never agreed with Tent City’s background checks and its policy to report to police any resident found to be subject to an outstanding warrant.
“They feel it’s an invasion of privacy,” she said. “The reason (residents) have split from SHARE is the camp feels it needs to work directly with the church and community. Tent City doesn’t want that type of person in the camp either. They want to be safe and be good neighbors in the community.”
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SHARE, which helped establish Tent City on the Eastside several years ago, has a somewhat different version of events, as posted on its web site. It will arrive at the camp, based at St. John Vianney on Finn Hill until Jan. 21, to remove its equipment and facilities. The SHARE web site said it will “close” the camp and residents will be “required to leave the premises by 9 AM Thursday morning, Nov. 15.” It added that SHARE “will cease any association or support for this encampment.”
But it appears the residents have no intention of leaving.
“It’s in our interests to be good neighbors and maintain a good relationship with the host church,” one camp official who asked not to be identified said Wednesday.
Hunt said SHARE provides the camp with a Dumpster, portable toilets and a cell phone, and originally provided tents as well. Hunt said food and other supplies are provided to Tent City 4 by the Kirkland Interfaith Network, a group of congregations supported by donations and civic groups.
Patch is attempting to reach Father Ramon Santa Cruz, the pastor of the Catholic parish, who last week sent a letter to neighbors of the church on Finn Hill about the arrest and the agreement to do random checks for sex offenders. Patch will update this story when he replies.
Hunt said Tent City 4 residents are aware of neighbors’ concerns about the arrest and other issues neighbors have raised. She said the camp, which provides its own security, is open to anyone 24 hours a day. Residents welcomed this reporter to the camp on Wednesday to take photos.
"They're really afraid," said Hunt. "These are people who have very little. They're asking, 'If they close the camp, where will I pitch my tent? Where will I lay my head?'"
About 100 people currently reside at the camp, which moves every 90 days to various congregations in Eastside cities, including Bellevue, Redmond and Woodinville. The encampment has been at Temple B'nai Torah and St. Luke's Lutheran Church in the past.
Kirkland Police say that in general, they experience very few issues with residents of the camp.