Tent city pitches at fairgrounds in Port Townsend

By Allison Arthur of the Leader
Posted 3/17/15

John Prentice and Paul Sanow took turns Monday serving as host for Port Townsend's first Tent City at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds campground.

Prentice, 35, and Sanow, 65, both had spent …

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Tent city pitches at fairgrounds in Port Townsend

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John Prentice and Paul Sanow took turns Monday serving as host for Port Townsend's first Tent City at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds campground.

Prentice, 35, and Sanow, 65, both had spent nights in the Winter Shelter at the American Legion until it closed for the season March 13.

Both men – and about six other people, including an elderly woman with pneumonia who was sleeping in a small donated teardrop trailer – opted to form a small community after the shelter closed.

With the help of community members and equipped with tents and sleeping bags thanks to Olympic Community Action Programs, they banded together to create what they call a "tent city" to work together and support one another. The person designated as host watches over things, making sure what little personal property the people have is protected and that the area is kept clean and people are respectful.

The fairgrounds was chosen because it has bathrooms and showers and is next to a bus stop, an amenity that helps those without cars who are looking for a job access services elsewhere.

The question is how long the community-supported tent city will last.

“The rules of the county fairgrounds is to be gone after 10 days,” said Prentice matter-of-factly on Monday morning as he surveyed the gathering.

“Today at the county commissioners' meeting there were several people who spoke up about this,” interjected housing advocate Barbara Morey, hoping the county will somehow take action and allow the small group to stay until mid-May when regular campground business usually picks up.

“We're not here to cause problems or make a mess. We're here to have a safe place to stay,” said Prentice, “and to leave the area better.”

FAIR BOARD REACTION

Sue McIntire, Jefferson County Fair Association board treasurer, said Monday she had not heard from anyone at the county.

The county fair and fairgrounds are located on county-owned property and are funded, maintained and operated year-round by the association, a nonprofit corporation. McIntire said the county commission has no say in fairgrounds management, including campground policies. It's considered private property, she said. “Unless they changed the rules on me again.”

McIntire said she wasn't happy about the so-called tent city because organizers were told they couldn't come and they did so anyway. She also said campground Rule No. 4 – the 10-day rule – is enforced.

The fair association “reserves the right to refuse service, limit the length of stay and the number of persons or vehicle per site and or remove any person or party without refund,” according to its website.

For now, host Sanow said no plans have been made for the future.

“We have been drying out from the recent weather,” he said. “However, it's something that we might think about soon.”

BOILER ROOM ACTION

The tent city concept started to take shape days before the Winter Shelter closed.

Amy Smith, executive director of the Boiler Room, started a Go Fund Me campaign March 10 under the title Port Townsend Tent City. As of Monday, the site had raised $1,200 through 29 donations to pay the $17 daily camp fee for the eight people to camp at the fairgrounds.

Morey and others have urged county commissioners to reduce the camping fee, which is controlled by the fair association.

The campers set up along the campground's rear border, across a fence from an apartment complex and along a treeline which did not protect the tents from nearly 2 inches of rain that fell Saturday night into Sunday. The ground was mushy and muddy on Monday and Sanow laid a yellow tarp so that a visitor could stand and talk.

As of Monday, no one living in the apartment complex or any other neighbor had commented to the campers.

Campground rules set quiet hour at 10 p.m. The campers opted for 9 p.m. – and Saturday night heard noise from televisions in the nearby apartments.

The only minor difficulty, Sanow said, was a groundskeeper who hadn't been informed of the group's arrival and clearly wasn't happy with it.

To be neighborly, Sanow said, he's already picked up trash on the side of the road near the fairgrounds and Prentice said he'd cleaned the toilets, which he didn't think had been cleaned all that well.

HELP COMES

The campers are being supported by members of the Affordable Housing Action Group, as well as the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the Boiler Room and others in the community.

Morey was on hand Monday to take two women, including the woman with pneumonia, to Jefferson Healthcare Hospital for a mid-day meal. She was shuttling anyone who wanted to go there for lunch, which also was paid for by community donations.

Organizer Jan Krick said in an email that OlyCAP, COAST, and others have also worked to provide a temporary home for those who left the Winter Shelter.

“It is an experimental tent city and a very exciting prospect,” Krick said. Her husband, a retired psychiatrist, took the time to talk to campers to be sure they were getting what they need so that “everyone is able to contribute to the success of the experiment.

“We are all very hopeful and motivated to see this become a model for further efforts to house the homeless in Port Townsend,” Krick wrote.

An account has been established at First Federal to help with the tent city.

GOALS

While Morey took two women to Jefferson Healthcare, the men stayed behind to talk about their goals and what they'll do while they are at the fairgrounds.

Sanow would like to teach anyone interested in playing cribbage and he has a lending library of books in his vehicle, which he lives in. He's thinking of writing about his adventures and he does not consider himself homeless.

“I'm houseless, but not homeless,” said the former drug and alcohol counselor, who also has EMT training and is a college grad. “My house is internal, wherever I hang my hat.”

Now on Social Security, Sanow says it's impossible to find affordable housing.

Prentice, who has family in the area, says there are all walks of life represented in the seven or eight people there. One of the women, Lori, was wanting to get away from an ex-husband. It's not clear what had happened to the elderly woman who had pneumonia.

A former security guard who spent Super Bowl Sunday taking a food handlers' certification test, Prentice hopes to find a job soon in Jefferson County. He's also a former Eagle Scout – an achievement he was proud of. He's worked in Alaska so camping and roughing it are no problem, although the tents did leak on Saturday night, even with a layer of tarps on top.

A man who goes by the name of Julius was also there to chat Monday. He frequently stands in front of Safeway with a sign saying he needs day work. He gets it, he says.

“I've had six or seven jobs in the last two months. Some people just hand me money,” he said. Julius said others from the shelter who still are without places to be have wrapped themselves up in tarps and are living at the beach.

While Julius isn't yet ready to be part of the tent city, Prentice said the others say like being together, sharing meals with one another and looking after each other.

Prentice and Sanow said they realize other people may have made a mess in the past, but that's not the intention of those there now.

“All of the individuals involved have agreed to certain rules of behavior and are working together as a community for garbage control, and helping each other stay within the bounds of established camp rules,” Prentice wrote in a handwritten prepared statement he used to speak to a church.

On Monday night, Prentice said he also planned to start a Facebook page to offer updates about what's going on and the needs and hopes of those at the camp for the future.

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