I visited Seattle’s Tent City 3 in June with a group of editors from other street papers.
Before I saw Tent City 3, I thought of tent cities as necessary evils, not viable shelter options. For me, they were a grim reminder of income inequality and a symbol of the lack of affordable housing. I was picturing a refuge camp—and because some tent encampments look that way, I took it for granted that Tent City 3 would be a chaotic, depressing place.
Instead, I found myself on a tour of a well-run temporary shelter system that has been providing a safe housing alternative to the Seattle area for a decade.
Seattle currently has four authorized tent cities. Tent City 3, the longest running encampment, provides shelter for 100 people.
In many ways, a well-run tent city is a good option for someone seeking temporary shelter. One huge advantage they give residents is the freedom to come and go 24 hours a day. At a traditional overnight shelter, residents are usually kicked out early in the morning (often with their belongings) and must be back to claim a bed by mid-afternoon. This severely limits the kind of employment a person can seek. Tent city residents have the freedom to work graveyard shifts.
To find out more about Tent City 3 and how it functions, check out our feature story on page 10.
Real Change, Seattle’s street paper, was instrumental in advocating for the government-sanctioned tent cities there. Many street papers do more than create jobs for their vendors; they also educate communities and advocate for the rights of those experiencing homelessness and poverty. This is what I love about street papers.
The International Network of Street Papers brings all the diverse street publications of the world together. INSP connects us so that we can learn from each other and be inspired by each other. In this issue we’ve highlighted a few noteworthy street papers to give you a better idea of the global movement you’re part of when you purchase a copy of the Denver VOICE.
The INSP-led tour of Tent City 3 inspired me to reconsider a type of shelter I had previously written off. Real Change and INSP taught me that, while they might not be long-term answers, tent cities can be temporary solutions. For someone living without shelter, a temporary option is better than no option.
Government-sanctioned tent cities might not work in Denver. For one thing, we don’t have the temperate climate Seattle has. And no one is saying tent cities are a long-term solution to housing—not even the people living in them. Tent cities exist in Seattle because the city needs them. The city also needs more affordable housing, but in the meantime there are people on the streets now who have to find another option.
Tent City 3 is a good reminder that we shouldn’t dismiss a shelter option just because it is unorthodox. The INSP helps street papers share these kinds of stories with each other and with our readers. And hopefully, by sharing these stories, we can create real change too. ■