Seattle Pacific University learned this winter that when one person helps another, the process is not one-sided. Regardless of who the two sides are, both parties gain from the experience.
When SPU hosted the Tent City 3 (TC3) homeless camp From January through March, the university lit up. Students, faculty, staff and general Queen Anne community members threw themselves into assisting the residents, while soaking up every bit of information on homelessness they could.
Near the end of TC3’s 90-day stay on campus, it was clear that the residents were helping SPU members even more than SPU members were helping the residents.
“Our students have a better awareness about the complexities related to homelessness,” said Dr. Jeffrey C. Jordan, vice president for student life at SPU. “The stereotypes and assumptions related to homelessness have been challenged and a healthy dialogue has been engaged about the issue. Many of our students spent a good deal of time at TC3 and with the residents. They learned about the stories of the individuals and many friendships were formed.”
The university provided numerous opportunities for students and staff to become involved, including facilitating discussion-based forums which exposed SPU members to many aspects of homelessness. Several faculty members incorporated TC3 and homelessness into their classes, as well.
Approximately six faculty members requested TC3 residents as guest speakers for their classrooms.
Dr. Tom Amorose, English faculty member who teaches an “Arts and Christian Community” course, said that his guest speaker from TC3 made the “best 30 minutes we’ve spent in that class all quarter.”
“It was an amazing experience for us all,” Amorose said. “Our guest had a brief speech on the nature of Tent City, homelessness, how people end up homeless, what it’s like versus a shelter… Trying to find work when you can’t provide an address and the shortage in America of low-income housing.”
The students ate it up. They were mesmerized and asked good questions: how to help, how to visit, what about children.”
Amorose discussed how some students asked questions that appeared to reveal their innocent prejudices, such as if housing is so expensive here, why can’t the homeless move to small towns where it’s cheaper? The answer is a combination of the need for jobs, family and community.
Another asked about family support. The speaker explained how you can borrow from friends and family for only so long before it starts to erode your sense of dignity.
As a Christian university, SPU prides itself on giving students an awareness of social justice.
For SPU, hosting Tent City3 was a golden ticket toward achieving these ends.
“Hosting TC3 on our campus fits very well with the ‘DNA’ of our university – it’s heritage and mission, Jordan said. “SPU has been involved in serving globally and locally.”
In November of 2011, when SPU considered the TC3 hosting offer, Dr. Les Steele, former vice president for academic affairs stated in an email letter to the SPU community that hosting TC3 “is a concrete manifestation of our mission of engaging the culture and changing the world.”
Steele went on to write “it provides us a unique opportunity to care for our neighbor and to learn from our neighbor.”
But make no mistake, Jordan said, the Queen Anne community was a partner with SPU, and the venture would not have been a success without the community’s support.
SPU linked with a number of local churches, synagogues and organizations including the First Free Methodist Church, Queen Anne Helpline, VAIN Hair Salon and Girl Scouts. Many individuals provided meals, donated clothing and offered haircuts and dental services.
“I am greatly appreciative of how those efforts brought so much more to this experience,” Jordan said. “SPU and TC3 were truly blessed by all the support and effort from our neighbors.”
At this time, Tent City 3 is located at St. Mark’s Cathedral on Capitol Hill.