The Perkins Perspective | The (Sub)Urban Scene | Spring 2012
Tent City 3: What Did It Mean?
By Owen Sallee, Coordinator for Global and Urban Involvement
On January 21, Seattle Pacific University welcomed Tent City 3 to its Wallace Field. For the next two months, residents of the homeless’ encampment became part of the campus community in countless ways.
Seattle Pacific’s interaction with Tent City 3 during Winter Quarter was a challenging, encouraging, and busy time for members of the campus community — and for the residents of TC3.
Learning and Listening
A well-attended weekly series of educational forums, hosted by members of SPU’s faculty, local organizations, and TC3 residents allowed the SPU community to learn more about the experience and issues of homelessness.
In partnership with Greater Seattle Cares, First Free Methodist Church, church and community groups from around Seattle, as well as groups from across campus, we provided a hot meal for TC3 residents every night of their stay on campus.
Collection drives, visits from the Girl Scouts and school groups brought in generous donations of supplies such as batteries, socks, and canned food to support TC3’s daily needs. International students at the A.C.E. Language Institute, just down the street from SPU, learned about homelessness in America, an unfamiliar concept for many.
It was not uncommon to see SPU students and Tent City 3 residents engaged in conversation or a game of chess in the SPU Student Union Building. Knitting groups, musical collaborations, a book club, an evening of manicures, and other social activities were organized by students. Adjacent to campus, First Free Methodist Church extended an invitation to its Sunday night worship service and meal as well as its weekly food-care clinic. Both of these gatherings were well-received by Tent City 3 and enjoyed by all.
In fact, these people just seemed to like each other. A KIRO Newsradio report by Rachel Bell interviewed Tent City 3 residents and students who were engaged in educational projects and internships related to TC3’s stay on campus. Their SPU campus experience, said Tent City 3 residents, was one of the most positive they’ve had — right from the beginning.
On the January 21, over 100 students had joined the Perkins Center’s Latreia service project to assist with Tent City’s move-in. Friendships that started then continued to flourish throughout their stay. Students spoke highly of their interactions with Tent City 3: They learned a lot, met new people, and heard stories that helped expand their understanding of homelessness. Finally, when Tent City 3 packed up on March 24 during Spring Break, a number of SPU students, faculty, and staff were on hand to say goodbye.
I was encouraged by the point of view from which many in the SPU community approached Tent City 3. It would have been easy for the affluent and privileged SPU community to look with pity on “those needy people” who make up Tent City 3’s population. But instead of this hierarchical approach, many saw TC3’s visit to SPU as an opportunity to relate to new neighbors, engaging from a place of equal footing, learning and sharing together, without judgment or the us-versus-them paradigm.
But what does all this mean? What will be the long-term impacts of Tent City 3’s visit to Seattle Pacific University in Winter 2012?
Systems theorist Uri Bronfenbrenner writes, “To demonstrate that human development has occurred, it is necessary to establish that a change produced in the person’s conceptions and/or activities carries over to other settings and other times” (The Ecology of Human Development, 1979, pg. 35). In other words, “change” is only real if it impacts more than a single area of life and is sustained over time. If Tent City 3’s departure from campus on March 24 takes with it SPU’s drive to engage with the people and issues of homelessness in Seattle, we’ve failed to maximize our opportunity. In fact, if Tent City 3’s stay at SPU doesn’t prompt changes in individuals and organizations in ways that promote ongoing engagement, advocacy, and concern for “the other” we’ve accomplished only charity — and missed the mark in pursuit of justice and transformation.
Yet a number of hopeful signs are emerging as the “What next?” question begins to enter the conversation. Student groups intend to continue their interactions with Tent City 3 at their new location at Saint Mark’s Cathedral on Capitol Hill this spring. Others have discussed a desire to become more aware of, and involved in, the work of advocacy for shelter, affordable housing, and emergency services in Seattle and across Washington state. Still others have encouraged their peers, churches, or academic institutions to consider hosting or otherwise engaging with Tent City 3. There’s promise in these conversations: a good experience this winter is leading toward further work to promote relationships and justice for those on the margins of Seattle’s community.
As SPU continues to assess the impact of our interaction with Tent City 3, I’m confident that good things have happened and expectations were met. I’m hopeful, also, that a good thing started here will be carried forward in our community’s pursuit of justice and reconciliation.
Owen Sallee trained under World Vision's Vision Youth Initiative, and he was a youth director for Choose Life Youth Ministries in White Center for 12 years, during and following his time as an undergraduate at Seattle Pacific University. He graduated from SPU in 1999, and in 2006, he completed his master’s degree in school counseling at SPU.
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