Home for the homeless: Tent City 4 sets up camp in Preston

Tent City 4 has called a wooded nook at exit 20 off Interstate-90 home for the last three months and has until July before its 52 residents will be asked to pack their tents and move along.

Tent City 4 has called a wooded nook at exit 20 off Interstate-90 home for the last three months and has until July before its 52 residents will be asked to pack their tents and move along.

The roving city sits on a trail that links to Tiger and Squak Mountains. It’s based in High Point, between Preston and Issaquah, on King County land, though the Department of Natural Resources pays taxes the property.

When asked what the camp provides, both camp advisors, Sam Roberson and Perry Debell, asserted that safety is its number one priority.

“A safe place to live where they’re not going to get hurt or injured or killed,” Roberson stated about the camp’s intent. “We have, tents we can give them. We have food donations, clothing donations, bus tickets (for them) to get back and forth to work, the doctor, meetings, whatever they’re going to.”

More than 50 people are housed in Tent City 4, in tents like these.

Tent City 4 also works with Hopelink, a community-access agency, to help its tenants find permanent housing and encourages employers to stop by with temporary job listings.

Most tent cities serve about 100 people and are formed in a circular shape, but with the sprawled layout of the encampment, Robinson said its current capacity is around 60 before they’ll start spreading too far into the woods. This tent city’s current incarnation can’t offer showers, as there’s no running water on-site – but it has electricity thanks to a generator, and even occasionally operates a big-screen T.V.

Roberson said the community response has been excellent – ”up and beyond, to be exact.” He said that hikers who pass the trails linking through the camp often return with donations, meals or just to stop by and drink a cup of coffee with the temporary locals.

He said the camp also has good rapport with the King County Sheriff’s Department, as its mandatory background checks for warrants and sex offenders sometimes lead to arrests.

“If you even think you have a warrant,” Roberson began, “don’t come here because we run warrant checks and we will not tell you if the police says, ‘He’s got a warrant, we’ll be right there…’ We run a really tight ship.”

Despite the community support, Tent City 4 is scrambling to find a new home for its city – a feat that Debell said is causing him to lose sleep.

Occasionally, the organization fires up a generator to run a big-screen T.V. on site for the residents.

“I’m going to fight … tooth and nail until they realize this is a successful operation,” Debell stated. He said if cities with persistent homeless populations, like North Bend, were to work with Tent City 4 and help them find a nearby plot of land, they would see a significant improvement with transient populations.

Tent City 4 needs about 6,000 square feet of land to operate, preferably on church land, where it can utilize tax-exemption and on-site water and power services. It also requires accessible bus stops into Seattle, so the ideal locations are in Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Woodinville or Kenmore.

To stay at Tent City 4, eligible homeless people must have an up-to-date, government-issued ID and follow the rules of conduct and of sobriety and agree to nonviolence and cooperation – the area is under 24/7 surveillance.

The encampment is run by Share/Wheel, the county’s largest shelter network, with 15 indoor accommodations and two tent cities. The organization is self-managed and run by homeless members, requires no fees and doesn’t receive any government funding, but it still manages to serve roughly 450 homeless people per night.

Tent City 4 costs roughly $5,000 a month to operate with portable toilets, trash removal, blanket cleaning and bus pass costs.

Cash, checks and Paypal donations are accepted, along with food supplies and tents, tarps, flashlights, gasoline and batteries.

Send an email tc4meals@gmail.com to contribute a meal.

A view of camp supplies and donations.