SHARE halts Tent City shutdown following dispute with residents in Kirkland | Slideshow

At least 20 homeless residents packed up to leave Tent City 4 (TC4) in Kirkland Thursday morning amidst a dispute between camp residents and the group that operates the camp.

SHARE/WHEEL, which established the first Tent City in 1990, on Tuesday initially ordered about 100 homeless residents to leave the premises of St. John Mary Vianney Catholic Church where the camp is currently staying by 9 a.m. Thursday.

But after TC4 members held and emergency meeting to obtain new leadership and bar nine members, it was only then that SHARE officials allowed the encampment to stay open.

The group originally said it would “cease any association or support” for TC4, according to its website, because of poor leadership management.

According to SHARE officials, TC4 leaders didn’t comply with mandatory Power Lunch meetings. Their policy indicates that: “Attendance of at least one of the several community meetings held through the week is required. Days and times will be posted so that you may work it into your schedule. If these rules are not respected and enforced, Tent City4 may be permanently closed.”

But Lantz Rowland, board director of SHARE and Tent City 3 member said the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was a Nov. 7 decision that leadership at TC4 made without SHARE’s approval to require random weekly criminal background checks on residents. The decision came after the arrest of a TC4 resident on child rape charges. The pastor of the church, Ramon Santa Cruz, approached the encampment to do the random checks out of concern for the community.

SHARE, which advocates for right-to-privacy, has long opposed such measures on the grounds of discrimination.

On Thursday morning, SHARE officials did not show up to the camp to collect their belongings, nor did they formally inform TC4 members of the change to keep the camp open until that afternoon.

As a result, about 20 outraged residents moved to Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland to form a new camp - Camp Unity Eastside. Pastor Kelly Dahlman-Oeth said the church, which has hosted TC4 twice before, would welcome anyone who wanted to leave TC4. Tent City is already set to move to that church at the end of January.

“If the camp needs the (sexual-predator checks) we’ll be prepared to do that,” said Dahlman-Oeth. “I’m not sure why SHARE rejected or disagreed with that … It seems counterintuitive to say no, they can’t do that. It could’ve been handled better.”

Robert Bruce McKay-Erskine, 35, was arrested at Tent City on Nov. 7 and charged with three counts of first-degree child rape and two counts of first-degree child molestation on Nov. 8 in Pierce County Superior Court.

A resident at TC4 informed the Reporter that McKay-Erskine had only been there for a short while but during his time there, he and his girlfriend were “all around nice people.”

The camper, John T., said McKay-Erskine was a handyman who would often help fix things around the encampment. When he was arrested, John T. said the man’s girlfriend was distraught and had “no clue” of the allegations he’s facing.

According to John T., she had plans of leaving TC4 and joining Camp Unity Eastside.

Mark Little, a TC4 resident on the camp’s Executive Committee that provides the background checks, said they didn’t catch that McKay-Erskine wasn’t registered as a sex offender until days after he moved to the camp due to a “lag in paperwork.”

Following the arrest, Little said he called SHARE consultant Scott Morrow, who “didn’t return any calls.” He said the camp went ahead and made the decision to do the background checks “to maintain our relationship with the church. We have a voice and we wanted to comply with them.”

Little was one of the residents who moved to Lake Washington United Methodist.

Greg Magnoni, spokesman for St. John Mary Vianney, said the church will continue to host TC4 and that they have brought up the issue of doing the random sexual-offender checks but that SHARE will bring it up at their next board meeting before making a final decision.

Raechel Dawson and Matt Phelps contributed to this report.

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