Tent City leaving Sammamish | Council adopts moratorium on homeless encampment permits

The Sammamish City Council put a six-month moratorium on homeless encampments Tuesday night to give the council, city staff and the community time to develop permanent regulations.

Tent City 4's permit expires this weekend, but the newly-adopted moratorium means they will not be able to come back to Sammamish until specific guidelines regarding homeless encampments are decided upon.

The decision came as police and sheriff’s deputies arrested a Tent City resident Jan. 9 for felony possession of narcotics. The 38-year-old man was found carrying a pipe used to smoke methamphetamine. A small amount of methamphetamine was found in the pipe.

After his arrest, police say the man claimed to have sold methamphetamine to 12 residents of Tent City 4 earlier that day. A search of his tent turned up no additional drugs.

Another man, age 22, will also be charged with felony narcotics possession. He was arrested on Dec. 18 when he stopped by the Sammamish Police station to obtain previously confiscated items upon being kicked out of Tent City 4. He had small baggie of methamphetamine in his jacket pocket.

“Our officers have been monitoring Tent City 4 from the beginning,” Sammamish Police Chief Nate Elledge told the council Jan. 14. “Up until recently, most of the incidents we followed up on were relatively minor. But here at the end of their stay, we encountered some serious issues.”

Elledge said the department responded to 30 calls during the three months, with 15 calls in the first two months and 15 more calls in the last month. Elledge said calls did increase when the 30-day extension was granted, but they are unsure as to why.

The 30 instances included five disturbance calls, a missing person call, a warrant arrest and a narcotic investigation. The city said that while following up on reports that drugs were being used and sold inside Tent City 4, Sammamish police, with the help of detectives from the Sheriff’s Office, conducted an investigation that resulted in the arrests of the two men.

City manager Ben Yazici said it’s unfortunate that some residents decided to break Tent City 4’s internal code of conduct, but that he was proud of the results the Sammamish police produced. City officials wanted to make it clear that although there were various issues that evolved with Tent City 4, the overall experience was a positive one.

Tent City 4 set up camp at Mary Queen of Peace Church on Oct. 19, and after 60-days, received a 30-day extension so it could remain during the holiday season.

While there was legitimate talk of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church hosting Tent City 4 following their departure from Mary Queen of Peace, Good Samaritan backed out suddenly for unknown reasons.

Good Samaritan had held an emergency meeting on Jan. 9 and Rev. Suzi Robertson said that church leadership voted unanimously to host Tent City 4, stating, “Good Samaritan is making plans with city officials, and a wealth of support from the broader community to be Tent City 4’s next host.” However, four days later the request was pulled off the table. Rev. Robertson said she couldn’t comment on the matter.

“The difficulty and challenge as we go forward is that we haven’t engaged the community in the regulations,” Yazici said. “I think the church, our community and the City Council deserve credit for their generous spirit. We took our turn and handled it as well as we could.”

Yazici said he hopes the problems discovered at the Sammamish encampment won’t keep Tent City from finding another location.

“Although the leadership of Tent City 4 clearly has some work to do, I trust that everyone’s good efforts will lead to better days ahead,” Yazici said.

Other council members spoke up about the positivity that Tent City 4 had brought to the community.

“Tent City has been a wonderful experience for the city,” deputy mayor Kathy Huckabay said. “The concern I’m sure the community has is where Tent City is going to go and whether we are forcing them out.”

Huckabay also said that she thinks taking the six-month moratorium will give the city some much-needed time to organize.

“I look forward to getting through that process and having the opportunity to have you back,” Huckabay said, speaking to the Tent City members.

Council member Nancy Whitten echoed that view, stating that the city needs to make room for more affordable housing options, but in a way that is equitable to all parties.

“I wanted to say thank you for coming. You have contributed a lot to the community,” Whitten said. “We do need to get our ducks in order and make it fair to the neighbors and figure out what’s best for the community.”

In a vote of 5-2, the moratorium passed with most council members agreeing that they'd like to complete the process as soon as possible. Council member Whitten and council member Ramiro Valderrama voted against the proposal.

“We do need to give our residents the opportunity to weigh in,” council member Tom Odell said. “We need to give some thought as to how we deal with all of this. But I would be in favor of trying to get this thing done as soon as possible.”

Members of Tent City 4 spoke at the meeting, thanking the city and community for being welcoming and supportive. They said that they wish Issaquah, Woodinville or Redmond would invite them to stay, but they have not. They are unsure where they will be going next, but they assured the council that they will be out of Sammamish by Jan. 18.

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