Tent City 3 prepares to end three-month stay at Renton-area church

Bear LeGalt, who mans the front desk at Tent City 3, takes a phone call in front of the single camper area. - Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter
Bear LeGalt, who mans the front desk at Tent City 3, takes a phone call in front of the single camper area.
— image credit: Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter

For the past three months, the residents of Tent City 3 have called the Renton area their home, but early next month their stay at Bryn Mawr United Methodist Church in the Skyway area comes to an end.

Work is already under way to begin breaking down the camp, which presently houses about 73 individuals in a well-organized and secured encampment of about 50 tents, located on a grassy corner of the church's property, to make the move to St. Dunstan's at 145th and Aurora in Shoreline on Jan. 4.

According to Tent City 3 Executive Committee Member and front desk worker Bear LeGalt, the time in the Renton area has been "great" and has helped the camp fulfill part of its mission by giving those down on their luck a place to go as they fight to get their lives back.

"It's about getting on your feet," LeGalt said this past week.

Inside the tightly packed camp, pieces of plywood serve as pathways over muddy ground and the tents, organized into common areas, couples areas and single campers, sit on palettes to keep campers off the ground.

They admit it's sometimes cold, especially after this past week's snow, but like anyone else, they made the most of it, with one camper even building a snowman in front of his tent, most of which are given monikers like "Sweet Spot," "Hoboe Court," or "JR's Place."

"Everybody names their tents," LeGalt said with a laugh.

There are also a handful of tents that house multiple residents and the camp uses a seniority system to determine who gets to move to a private tent when one opens up.Even those tents have been given fun names, such as "The Palms" and "The Sands," where single men live and the "Queen Dome" for the ladies.

The community section consists of a kitchen tent as well as a pantry, stocked with a microwave, other small appliances and shelves filled with non-perishable foods.

Everything in the camp, from the food to the medical supplies to coats and office supplies, has been donated.There is also a TV tent and a computer tent, where residents can get on the internet. There's also a "bike tent" that contains 15-20 donated bicycles that residents can check out after living in the camp for at least 30 days.

"Everything we've got is donations," LeGalt said.

LeGalt said Bryn Mawr United Methodist has been donating the electricity for the camp, which he estimated to be about $5,500 per month. Each camper at Tent City 3 must have a valid form of identification and goes through a background check, to prevent sex offenders from moving in. Residents must also sign a code of conduct, violations of which can lead to repercussions, up to and including expulsion from the camp.

In addition, drugs and alcohol are strictly prohibited."That's is one of our top rules," LeGalt said.

The campers elect members to the governing Executive Committee, voting in five members every week, with two alternates, to help determine policy within the gates.

"We are a self-governing entity," LeGalt said.

Roger, who declined to give his last name, has been living in Tent City since 2008 and is helping write the Camp's Operations manual, designed to tell the camp's history and culture, as well as explain how it all works. He said the camp has developed a lot in the past six years, but called it a "close-knit community" and said it was like the opposite of living by oneself in a one-bedroom apartment.

"It's got its perks and its drawbacks," agreed Daniel, who also declined to give his last name.

Daniel said the weather can get to you, but the residents always provide a pick-me-up."The people and attitudes are on the upside," he said, adding, "This is one of the better places."

Residents of Tent City must also spend time earning "community credits" by working camp security or patrolling the neighborhood around the encampment, looking for suspicious activity or just taking their turn as a "litter buster."

LeGalt said campers with jobs do fewer security shifts because of their schedules. Approximately 40 percent of the campers have regular jobs, while the others are always looking, according to LeGalt. At least one neighbor of the camp said the campers have been wonderful and the litter busters have certainly made their mark.

"It's cleaner than it's ever been," said Ray White, who lives directly across the street from the camp.

White called his temporary neighbors "extremely hard-working people" and said he will miss the "very fun and interesting people" he has met in the past three months.

"It truly has been a wonderful experience," he said, adding that he was concerned when he first heard, but soon learned to enjoy the addition to his neighborhood.

White admitted that not all of his fellow homeowners in the area are fans of the encampment, but said he has seen no fights, no crime and has had absolutely no problems with the residents of Tent City 3.

"They might be homeless, but they're not criminals," he said.

White said he is almost sorry to see the camp go and said he wanted to make sure that other neighborhoods do not fear the addition of Tent City and not to judge a book by its cover.

"There's a lot of scruffling books out there that tare beautiful on the inside," he said.

Tent City 3 will move Jan. 4. Volunteers and/or donations are always needed and appreciated.



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