EDITOR'S COLUMN: Bryn Mawr church steps up to help the homeless
By DEAN RADFORD
Renton Reporter Editor
March 5, 2009 · Updated 2:10 PM
Once again, it’s a church that has stepped up to help solve one of our most heartbreaking problems, homelessness.
But almost as heartbreaking as homelessness is an all-too-imperfect solution, a vagabond tent city that can only stay at one spot for three months before it’s cast adrift again.
That’s not a solution to homelessness.
But at least Renton is coming face to face with the faces of homelessness, at the Bryn Mawr United Methodist Church just up from downtown. That’s where Nickelsville, named not in a flattering way after Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, pitched its 60 or so mostly pink tents in the church’s yard this week.
The homeless men and women plan to stay at most three months, through early June. Can they renew their “lease,” so to speak? Who knows. They’re not always welcome in the first place and often aren’t asked back. That’s a shame.
But one thing is for sure. The congregation at the Bryn Mawr United Methodist Church wholeheartedly embraced Nickelsville. The members are already thinking about how to make the stay more comfortable. That’s not a surprise.
The chairman of their trustees, Harold Booker, made no promises when first approached by the Nickelsville organizers about using the church’s lawn. But just two days later, on a Sunday, without delay, the congregation said yes to hosting the tent city. It was courageous, given the pressure some churchs have felt when they extended their Christian hand to someone in need.
Tent city isn’t new to the Renton area. Tent City 3, which usually stays in Seattle, came to a boarded-up motel on Sunset Boulevard in Skyway, if I remember correctly, a few years back. It was well-run and I felt secure when I reported a story there.
I also covered the Tent City 4 on the Eastside, when it stayed at a Presbyterian church in south Bellevue. The key difference between the two? The protest signs outside the Bellevue church.
Some neighbors expressed concern to the Bryn Mawr church about hosting Nickelsville. But many more are supportive. The church did a good job of letting everyone know of its decision. There were no surprises.
I asked Booker whether he thought a tent city is a good solution to a national problem. The answer, a resounding “no.” It’s sad, he told me, that there are still homeless people in our country. A permanent solution must be found, he said.
I agree. And so does Mayor Nickels, who has been outspoken in his opposition to the tent cities. So does county Executive Ron Sims, who is now headed off to Washington, D.C., but was a key architect of a plan to end homelessness in 10 years. The plan is ambitious, but necessary. Just stop by Nickelsville in the next few weeks to understand why.
But frankly you don’t need to make the trek up West Hill.
The One-Night Count earlier this year found 90 people homeless on the streets and in their vehicles on a very cold night in Renton, probably more than ever before. Blame the economy for that. Those are Renton’s homeless.
Of course, there are ways to help. Renton churches already cooperate through ARISE, which provides shelter in local churches for homeless men. The issue is before the Legislature as well. Find out where your lawmaker stands on that.
Or, you can contribute to the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness at homelessinfo.orgor by mail, 77 S. Washington St., Seattle WA 98104.
It’s not a stretch to say that the streets are just a lost paycheck away.Contact Renton Reporter Editor Dean Radford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-425-255-3484 (ext 5050).