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Homeless community members and activists camp outside councilmember’s home hoping for the funding needed to keep their shelter alive

September 30th, 2009 by Thea

At around 8 p.m. last night some 40 homeless men and women set up camp outside Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess‘ Upper Queen Anne home in peaceful protest. They are members of the homeless-advocacy group SHARE/WHEEL (Seattle House and Resource Effort and Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League), the same group that protested by sleeping outside Mayor Greg Nickels’ West Seattle home on Monday night as a plea for additional funding for their program.

SHARE is local non-profit that helps 500+ homeless people find housing every night at one of their 14 self-managed shelters and two Tent Cities, providing services like Metro bus passes so that members have a reliable and safe means of transportation from shelter to shelter or to and from their work every day. The organization had applied to the city for $50,000 in additional funding to support the bus tickets, but said their application “Mysteriously disappeared in the Mayor’s office and never made it in front of the City Council to be voted upon,” in a press release earlier this week. Without additional financial support SHARE said it must take “direct action” to keep the shelter program alive, and has pledged to continue their protests on a nightly basis until their “financial crisis has been solved and the solution of purchasing bus tickets is found.”

Despite the rain, participants lined up on the grass beside the sidewalk and built beds out of mats, tarps and plastic garbage bags used to cover their belongings and keep them dry through the night. Most of the protesters settled on the opposite side of the street, although a few set up in front of the homes on either side of Burgess’.

The majority of the protesters are from Tent City 3, a temporary encampment of up to 100 homeless people that began in 2000. TC3 is currently located at All Saints Episcopal Church, located at 5150 S. Cloverdale, in Rainier Beach. (Last night and tonight members of different shelters have taken turns protesting. Last night’s camp out was comprised of primarily Tent City 4 residents, which began in 2004 on the Eastside). Steve Friberg, Thomas Bolander and Darlene Kembitskey (pictured below, left to right) are all TC3 residents who were participating in last night’s camp out.

All three said that they hoped to have the opportunity to discuss the vital role bus tickets play for homeless men and women with Councilmember Burgess.

“It’s really important because a lot of people are trying to find jobs and housing and you can’t get around without it,” Bolander said.

“He said that he’d be more than happy to speak with a couple of members,” said, Friberg, who is the Camp Advisor to Tent City 3 and serves as liaison between the SHARE staff and the five TC3 committee members. According to Friberg, although the protesters were around 40 at the beginning of the night, they were anticipating the arrival of another group in the event that they were unable to find a ride to their shelters.

“We’ve approached the bus drivers as a group and asked for rides,” he said. “If the bus driver says yes, they get on the bus and ride. If the bus driver says something else, they get off the bus and call us up and we arrange a ride to get them here.”

Friberg is just one of many who can attest to the need for SHARE’s shelter program. He joined SHARE two years ago after breaking his ankle, an injury that rendered him unable to work until healed.

“If it wasn’t for Tent City, I’d be bad off. They took me in. I’m back to the point where I can work, but unfortunately I’m a carpenter, and there’s not a lot of work for carpenters right now,” he said. “Without additional funding, we won’t be able to purchase any more tickets.”

And so, with no bus passes to help him look for work, Friberg is protesting. And he is not alone. 45-year-old Irish Kelly, a native or Orlando, Fla., had a place to stay tonight, but instead he chose to weather the wind the rain with other protesters for the second time (he also participated in Monday night’s protests).

Kelly (speaking about his experience in the above video) is an activist with Food Not Bombs, an international grassroots movement that aims to feed the hungry and protest war. He has been living in Western Washington for the last four weeks. Kelly stays at one of SHARE/WHEEL’s host churches in the University District and says the accommodations are both safe and comfortable.

“We’re in by 7 [p.m.] and out by 7 [a.m.] and we leave the place exactly the way we found it,” he said. “Every day I get a bus pass to get to and from.”

Kelly said he plans on staying in SHARE shelters, if he can, until he leaves Seattle in two months. He believes so strongly in the program, he thinks the city should not only find the money to support it, but that it should be expanded to the rest of the country.

“It’s great! They don’t have this on the East Coast,” he said.

And waiting to fund SHARE with money from the 2010 budget won’t help the 500+ members who are on the streets today.

“They wanted to give us money from next year’s budget, so these people would have been out here anyway,” Kelly said.

Lantz Rowland (above, left) has been a TC3 resident for years. Unlike protest opposition who have said the camp out is invasive, he is of the mindset that a peaceful protest, where participants are making a conscious effort to call attention to their cause without disturbing the neighborhood, will help garner support.

“This isn’t about causing trouble. It’s a civil protest,” he said. “SHARE’s indoor shelters are the cheapest and most cost effective, and we’re housing more people than anybody else…It’s SHARE’s indoor shelters that we’re supporting here. At SHARE shelters we always promise that we’re going to leave the neighborhoods in the morning, and to do that the bus ticket is critical.”

The $50,000 the organization is asking for, would break down to around $100 a person, a small price worth fighting for for the hundreds of lives it improves daily.

“Share is all run by participants. The staff in SHARE can’t vote and can’t veto votes,” Rowland said, explaining that Tent City and shelter participants protest because there are very few bodies who will speak for them.

Tent City 3 will move from its current home in Rainier Beach on Saturday, October 24 to the new site across town at St. George Episcopal in Lake City. Rowland is currently organizing a Facebook campaign to gather support for housing TC3 at the University of Washington Seattle campus in the future, a push supported by student organization Students for Civic Engagement on Homelessness. And, with locations changing every 90 days, SHARE’s need for reliable transportation is only greater.

“Our budget didn’t have any fat to be cutting off,” Rowland said. “We don’t have a $120,000 a year director. The money we use goes to where we need it.”

Among the protesters present last night were three legal observers wearing bright green hats with the words “National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer” printed in large type on the front. They declined to comment, saying they were not supposed to speak with the media.

SHARE staffer Carolyn was passing out large pieces of paper that were slightly damp from the rain and markers, encouraging protesters to make signs and hold them up as cars drive by. “You could write ‘I’d rather be in my shelter tonight,’ or ‘Am I not worth $100?’ she suggested to one young woman, named Elise. When asked if she was staying the whole night, she responded “For the most part.”

In the morning, she and the other protesters will pack up and leave. According to Friberg, SHARE’s committee members, who are all democratically elected amongst the homeless community the organization serves, will meet tomorrow to decide the next course of action and if, and where, the next protest will be.

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