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Church, SHARE officials agree not to enforce ongoing sex-offender checks for Tent City 4 in Kirkland
Officials of the Tent City 4 homeless encampment have not mandated weekly sex-offender checks, contrary to what St. John Catholic Vianney pastor Ramon Santa Cruz told the community last month.
The decision to forgo the checks came after SHARE staff met with parish leaders on Nov. 29 to discuss concerns that arose from the arrest of a man accused of child rape who was living at Tent City 4 during his apprehension.
Archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni said parish officials agreed that Tent City 4’s current system for warrant checks works well because police are able to locate residents from their initial background checks during the application process at Tent City 4.
“SHARE and parish leaders agreed to improve communication efforts so that incidents at the encampment will be reported in a timely fashion to the host,” said Magnoni. “I would describe the discussions as serious and constructive. Everyone walked away feeling that important issues were placed on the table and that all legitimate concerns were addressed.”
A day after Robert Bruce Mckay-Erskine’s arrest, Cruz sent out a letter to the community to explain Erskine was detained and had been given a background check but was accepted into the encampment before his criminal charges were filed. The letter states:
“The morning after the incident, parish staff met with Tent City staff and have taken steps to implement a system of random weekly sexual offender checks for residents to assure the safety and security of our neighbors, parishioners and all who use our parish facilities.”
The random weekly sexual offender checks were never implemented. The two parties held a meeting and came to an agreement, but church members and neighbors were never told otherwise.
“I live in the immediate vicinity,” said a neighbor who wishes to be unidentified. “That has been the issue, any level of communication and expectation - it’s never there … It was a big enough deal the priest wrote a letter. It seems that there should be some follow up communication.”
The resident’s home abuts Tent City 4 and he says he believes the parish officials and SHARE members are “very well intended individuals,” but that the organizations’ transparency is lacking.
Magnoni said the parish did not reach out to the public because the weekly random sex-offender checks were never implemented and the people who wanted them in place ended up leaving Tent City 4.
SHARE officials, who established Tent City in 1990, stated on their website that sex offender checks are always performed prior to admittance and the camp also does outstanding warrant checks as part of their “Good Neighbor Policy.” The issue with Erskine was simply that he had no warrants and was not in the Sex Offender Registry at the time he was accepted to live at the camp, according to SHARE.
“Imposing random sex offender checks on individuals because they live in a homeless encampment isn’t based on the record; it is based on fear,” said SHARE officials on their website Nov. 16.
Nonetheless, a select few of Tent City 4 residents made a decision to meet with the pastor on the issue and thus break SHARE’s policy, and eventually break away from SHARE itself to form Camp Unity Eastside. Both SHARE and the barred nine members acknowledge there were deeper issues regarding the split.
“SHARE’s our parents so we have to go by their guidelines and their rules,” said Joe Gladson, the current Tent City 4 camp advisor of 37 residents. “They (the nine barred) spoke out of turn.”
Now, it seems the 70 or so residents in Camp Unity and their host, Lake Washington United Methodist Church (LWUMC), are meshing well together. Pastor Kelly Dahlman-Oeth said the members of Camp Unity are “progressing forward” and are in the process of building a shower. He says six to 12 people regularly attend the church services and one person has even joined the church choir.
“We make it available without expectation or obligation,” said Dahlman-Oeth about attending church.
Tent City 4 was originally scheduled to move to LWUMC but because Camp Unity moved in, Dahlman-Oeth said there is a limitation on hosting two camps at the same time. Tent City 4 will move to St. Jude Parish in Redmond on Jan. 12, while Camp Unity is planning to move to Wooden Cross Lutheran Church in Woodinville by Feb. 14.
Dahlman-Oeth confirmed that Camp Unity is currently applying their own random weekly sex-offender checks. He says the church has had two community meetings about Camp Unity’s move to the church and there are about three people who are still concerned about the encampment.
“We’re all fearful of the ‘stranger in the neighborhood’ and so now we have 70 new people in the neighborhood,” Dahlman-Oeth said. “So, I’ve encouraged the people to meet with them, go watch football. Folks are always welcome to have a tour or meet the people.”
The pastor said residents of Camp Unity have been very helpful and are regularly looking around to ask how they can help the church.
Although Camp Unity is nearly set up, residents are still in need of batteries, warm clothes and blankets, tarps and plenty of other items, which a list can be found at campunity.org/index.php/about-us/needs-list
The church will host their own Christmas celebration for Camp Unity and other homeless organizations such as Sophia’s Way on Dec. 25.
“Any folks who don’t have a place to go on Christmas day are welcome,” Dahlman-Oeth said.