Hospitality for the Homeless

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                              Hospitality for the Homeless:
                  Seattle University’s Response to Radical Compassion

                          Panel # 6 (Formation and Learning)
            Panel Title - Hearing & Learning from People on the Margins

                      Madeline L. Lovell, PhD, Associate Professor
                             Ruth White, Assistant Professor
                       Department of Society, Justice, and Culture


                                       Joe Orlando
                          Director, Jesuit Identity and Mission

                                    Seattle University

                            Running Head: Homelessness

                              Hospitality for the Homeless:
                  Seattle University‟s Response to Radical Compassion

The authors would like to thank Seattle University students Angela Merrill, Anna Long, and Jodie
Campbell for their tremendous enthusiasm, inspiration, and assistance with the hosting of Tent
City and the evaluation of the experience from the student perspective.
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       At convocation in September 2003, Fr. Stephen Sundborg, President of Seattle

University, invited the university community to read Radical Compassion by Gary Smith,

SJ, as a way to learn more about the reality of homelessness and to feel closer to the

needs of the poor. Nearly 300 faculty and staff requested and read Radical Compassion, a

sign of the significant interest generated by the President‟s initiative and of its resonance

with our mission to empower leaders for a just and humane world. In response to the

reading of this book and to advance the ways in which our campus learned about and

engaged the reality of homelessness, the Mission and Ministry Division proposed that the

University host Tent City 3 for the month of February 2005.

       Tent City 3 is one of two formal encampments for the homeless operating in the

Seattle area under the direction of a local non-profit organization, SHARE/WHEEL. It

       “is a group of up to 100 homeless men and women who live together on the
       property of the host. They live only on land into which they have been invited. In
       the community there is a large 20-man tent, a large tent for single women and
       smaller tents. There is also a supply tent and welcome/information tent where
       Tent City residents can pick up bus tickets, come with concerns or take care of
       other important matters… An elected council of residents governs Tent City.
       They enforce a strict code of conduct. Two security workers are on duty at all
       times and check-in with all visitors. They patrol the grounds and at the host‟s
       request can also patrol neighboring areas… 60% of residents work. The other
       40% are either looking for work or are unable to work due to medical
       conditions… Tent City asks for nothing more than a piece of land on which to
       live. The people do not expect, nor ask for food, electricity, water, or any such
       thing from its hosts.“ (Tent City, 2004)

Drugs, alcohol, violence, weapons and panhandling in the vicinity of Tent City are not

tolerated. Sexual offenders are not allowed to reside there. Temporary encampments have

been legally allowed in Seattle since 2002 and have generally been hosted by churches or

social service agencies. Seattle University was the first university to host.
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        The offering of hospitality to this community of the homeless was envisioned as a

very influential educational moment in the formation of our students. It represented a

most powerful modeling by the University of the importance and possibilities of

including the disadvantaged in our community. The University thus was demonstrating

that the poor and marginalized can be integrated in positive ways to the benefit of all. Our

actions as a university community speak very clearly to our students.

        This paper will outline the challenges, successes, and rewards resulting from the

hosting of Tent City as an educational activity that attempted to directly respond to Fr.

Kolvenbach‟s (2000) call for the formation of graduates who can “…let the gritty reality

of this world into (students‟) lives so they can learn to feel it, think about it critically,

respond to its suffering and engage it constructively.” The various educational

components of the hosting will be described and data given on campus participation as

well as quantitative and qualitative data indicative of the impact on students.

                                Description of the Hosting

        The proposal to host Tent City evolved from a doctoral class project by one of the

authors, Joe Orlando. He spent much time in AY 2003-2004 developing linkages with

key campus administrators and constituencies before the project proposal was presented

to the University‟s executive team in late summer 2004. The hosting was suggested as a

unique opportunity for the University to „walk its talk‟ on social justice and to truly

model for students how the marginalized could be enfolded within a community. As a

part of this plan, ongoing and frequent consultation was held with Tent City

representatives prior to and during the hosting regarding their wishes for the experience

on campus. Their suggestions and requests were central to the effort – modeling a
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philosophy of equality and the worth of all persons, and that help is best offered in a true

partnership between those serving and served.

       Recognizing that there were already a multitude of pure service opportunities in

the Seattle community in the areas of poverty and homelessness, the University‟s

executive leadership determined that the central focus of the Seattle University hosting

should be educational – both regarding the causes of homelessness and, even more

importantly, how this major social problem could be addressed in significant ways. The

homeless residents of Tent City were seen as teachers to the community on the basis of

their direct experience with the issue.

       A variety of educational events on campus were incorporated into the hosting.

First, campus forums on homelessness linked to a larger campus educational theme for

AY 2004-05, Poverty and Consumption. These forums included not only reflection on the

nature of homelessness and its inherent suffering but also on the themes of political and

community change towards achieving social justice. Most of these events were open to

the surrounding community. Second, Tent City was connected with the ongoing

educational life of the university. Members of Tent City agreed to serve as classroom

speakers in a variety of classes as well as speaking at public forums. Opportunities for

directed service through service learning were planned. Related extracurricular

educational activities were coordinated with Student Development. A reader on issues

associated with homelessness was prepared as a resource to the community. Third,

students undertook significant leadership roles in planning and arranging the hosting.
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                              Impacts of the Hosting

       Data to evaluate the impact of the hosting was gathered by a variety of methods.

A campus-wide pre-post questionnaire was distributed. Attendance and comments at the

pre-hosting community forums were recorded. Attendance at all events was recorded. All

students who toured Tent City in classes were asked to complete a brief reflection. Key

informant interviews were held and unsolicited emails to the University (generally to the

Tent City Coordinator and the President‟s Office) were saved. Student research assistants

assisted with data collection and analysis. This paper concentrates on information that

speaks directly to the ability of the Tent City hosting to reach and impact SU students.

Campus-Wide Forums

     During the month, the university hosted a total of 8 events for the campus and

surrounding communities, drawing a total of 639 attendees. The events were held both

during the day and in the evening so that they would be accessible to the largest number

of people. The number of attendees is given in brackets.

   Three evening events:
         1. Mobilizing Our Community to End Homelessness: featuring Fr. Stephen
                Sundborg, SJ (Seattle University president); Ron Sims (King County
                Executive); Dan Brettler (United Way board member); and two Tent City
                residents (~200)

           2.   Faith Community Response to Homelessness: featuring the Very Rev.
                Robert Taylor (Dean, St. Mark‟s Cathedral); Rabbi Daniel Weiner
                (Temple De Hirsch Sinai); Josephine Tamayo-Murray (director, Catholic
                Community Services of King County); and the Rev. Craig Rennebohm,
                (Mental Health Chaplaincy, Plymouth Healing Communities) (42)

           3.   Just Housing?: featuring Shane Rock (executive director of the
                Washington Low-Income Housing Coalition); Josephine Tamayo-Murray
                (director of Catholic Community Services of King County); and Kris
                Stadelman (CEO of the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King
                County) (30)
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   Five daytime events
          1. Advocacy Service Learning: A Workshop for Faculty (59)
          2. Conversation with Tent City residents (225 including 110 law students)
          3. Street Papers" with Real Change (7)
          4. Dynamics of Homelessness (31)
          5. Peace on the Streets by Kids on the Streets (45)

Tent City and the Educational Life of the Campus

       Initially we had anticipated that Tent City residents would speak in classes.

However, the Tent City member-leaders judged the number of potential requests

overwhelming and instead offered to host groups to tour their community and to answer

any questions students might then have. Interestingly, a number of faculty felt that such

visits would constitute „poverty tourism‟ and were reluctant to agree. Repeated

assurances by Tent City that they in fact welcomed such visits and saw them as

educational activities fitting within their mission were able to alleviate such concerns. In

these activities, Tent City members became the teachers, educating students concerning

issues involved in the causes and responses to homelessness.

     A total of 20 on-campus groups (343 people) toured the camp and met with leaders.

These included:

   26 staff members in three groups
   300 students from 17 classes (with 17 faculty members)

In addition, 11 off-campus groups (235 people) visited and many, many unscheduled

individuals dropped by throughout the month to see the encampment.

       A number of faculty were able to actively incorporate the hosting into classroom

activities in other ways. For example, a senior undergraduate community organizing class

in Social Work assisted in reaching out to the surrounding community to explain our

purpose, disseminate information, and answer concerns as a „real world‟ class project.
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They designed an information sheet, developed a community map, and distributed fliers

door-to-door inviting neighbors to the community forum designed to explain the

University‟s plan to host Tent City. The Social Work Program also offered a class, „The

Politics of Homelessness‟, to the campus. Campus Safety and Security made internships

available to Criminal Justice undergrads as part of the effort to enhance security during

the month Tent City was on campus. Nursing students in their “Healthcare in

Communities” clinical participated in a health desk program with the residents of Tent

City 3 during their stay at Seattle University. They conducted a community assessment

and planned the health desk intervention with the ultimate goal of improving the health

status of the population. In an innovative undertaking, members of Tent City and a Core

freshman English class all read a short story by Sherman Alexie about a homeless Native

American in Seattle and came together to discuss the issues raised.

       Many faculty were interested in having their students do service learning in the

encampment as part of their course. However, this was not feasible given the numbers

involved. Instead they were encouraged to tour the site with their class and/or bring the

class to educational events. Furthermore, the Center for Service assisted faculty in

arranging service learning in off-campus agencies serving the homeless in the wider

Seattle community.

       Finally, a reader on homelessness was prepared for the University community. It

presented relevant local, regional and national demographic data, ethical considerations,

short stories, and poetry. All 200 copies were distributed upon request. In addition a web

site ( was prepared that kept the campus and Seattle
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communities apprised of activities and how to become involved. A listing of resource

materials and library materials was included.

Service Activities

       There were multiple opportunities for students to learn from the Tent City hosting

through service. A primary need identified by the Tent City leadership was funding. Each

month the community must raise approximately $4,500 to pay for services such as

hygiene facilities, 2 daily bus tickets per resident, and a cell phone shared by 100 people.

The Service Group undertook to raise one month‟s expenses during February by holding

fundraisers and receiving individual donations. The fundraisers were conducted primarily

by students and included a Raffle, a Residence Hall Casino Night, a Virtual Auction, the

Residence Hall Penny War, the Controller‟s auction, a Collegium coin collection, and a

Benefit Concert. These activities raised $7,115.20. Individual donations totaled an

additional $6,230. A grand total of $13,345.20 or almost three months‟ expenses was

raised, well beyond the target.

       Six half-day legal programs were developed by the Access to Justice Institute and

the Ronald A. Peterson Law Clinic. They were conducted by four area attornies, four SU

Law faculty members and fifteen students. Law student volunteers participated by: (1)

conducting intake interviews with the residents attending legal clinics and those

interested in speaking with an attorney to identify the main issues of concern; (2) briefing

the attorney on the legal issue in question and introducing the client; and (3) observing

the attorney providing legal advice while assisting with logistical matters as needed.

Program topics were chosen in consultation with Tent City members who requested

information and consultation on unemployment benefits, unclaimed property, family law
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and custody issues, debt issues, social security and disability, sealing juvenile records,

reinstating driver‟s licenses, and getting rid of outdated warrants. Approximately forty

percent of the camp residents took part in the legal assistance programs.

       Finally, a total of 638 volunteers assisted with other service activities: helping

with the move-in and move-out, preparing evening meals and sack lunches, and

participating in special events. Moving activities included packing up tents and loading

the moving trucks with buckets of rocks, wood pallets, tents, supplies, and personal

belongings, then laying out cardboard boxes and wood pallets on SU tennis courts, and

unloading moving trucks. Campus Safety and Housing & Residence Life partnered to

acquire a rental bus to transport SU volunteers and Tent City residents between the

former site in Tukwila and SU on move-in day. 276 volunteers participated in preparing

and serving evening meals on 24 days. 157 volunteers made lunches on 27 days. More

than 150 student athletes hosted a weekly special events night at the encampment with

card games, board games, movies, basketball, tennis, dancing, etc. And last but not least,

the Masters of Nonprofit Leadership student cohort hosted a Super Bowl Part for 120

people (Tent City residents and SU students/staff) in one of the residence halls.

Student Leadership Opportunities

       Two undergraduate seniors in Social Work and representatives from student

government were invited to sit on the Tent City Planning Committee. This group of

senior staff and faculty met from September 2004 to January 2005 to assist in planning

for the hosting. The social work majors spoke at all three community forums prior to the

hosting presenting the student perspective on the educational value of this undertaking.

These two students and a third classmate volunteered to assist with the analysis of
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outcome data and presented their findings at the Seattle University Undergraduate

Research Conference and at a spring conference of the National Student Campaign

Against Hunger & Homelessness. As a result of the latter presentation, this national

student organization invited the University to host its November 2005 annual conference

and our President has agreed. These students have worked closely with the Center for

Service to plan for this event. In AY 2004-2005, the Center for Service had several part-

time Americorp student employees in the program, “Student Leaders for the Common

Good”. These students took on numerous leadership roles in coordinating the logistics of

the hosting, tracking class visits, and dealing with donations of supplies to Tent City.

Their program director was herself a graduate theology student at the University who

played a key role as liaison between the encampment and the University.

Personal Reflections

       207 students completed questionnaires after touring Tent City. 97.1% (N=201)

said that hosting Tent City was a good idea. 57% (N=118) found it to be different than

they expected. Thematic data analysis showed that students found the experience to be

educational, enlightening and positive. They noted their awareness of the issue and the

need for social justice was enhanced. Students also reported being very impressed with

the Tent City community (Campbell, Long, & Merrill, 2005).

       Following is a sample of reflections by students after interacting with Tent City


      Email to Tent City hosting coordinators from a student-athlete who participated in
       Monday evening social nights:

       “I just wanted to thank you for all your efforts with Tent City. I went last night
       for the first time to help with the activities put on by Student Athlete Activities
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    Council. The student athletes were very excited about the opportunity to meet
    and converse with Tent City residents.

    “I, myself, was very intrigued with the idea. I met some amazing people last
    night and it really hit home for me! I came back from the night more aware of my
    environment and more satisfied than I had been in a long time. I truly feel
    that this experience has opened my eyes to a new way of thinking and I just
    wanted to thank you for giving us, the students of Seattle University, the

   Reflection by a nursing student who assisted with the nursing health desk:

     "I feel fortunate to be an active member in helping the Tent City 3 residents.
    However, when they leave, it may be more difficult because I will not see them
    every week. One resident made a comment in a meeting that I attended that keeps
    replaying in the back of (my) mind. He said, "We are sometimes placed where
    people can't see us, making it seem like homelessness is not an issue. If you do
    not see a problem, it is easy to believe that is doesn't exist." I reflected on this
    comment for a long time. I suppose I always knew that homelessness was an issue
    but it was not an issue in my life. However, I now see it every week and I listen to
    what the Tent City 3 residents have to say every week. It is now a huge part of my
    life because I have opened my heart to it."

   Student responses to a survey question on why it was a good idea to host Tent

    “It showed me that homelessness is not an individual thing but a community thing
    and that there can be a positive outcome if everyone worked together…it really
    changed my perspective on homelessness.”

    “Tent City allows students and the homeless to learn about one another and gain
    insights and perspective on the lives of others.”

    “I had biases of some sort and many of them were proven wrong. I‟m glad I

    “The experience you get by speaking to the people and learning about how the
    homeless live is just unbelievable.”

    “I‟m glad that there are people to help the homeless and that even as a community
    we can all help one another and learn about the important issues that our
    community has.”

           Tent City 3 residents echoed this positive experience. While media
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attention became tedious after a time, overall it was an exciting and empowering

experience as the following comments by residents demonstrate.

       “Being at SU has been a „humanizing‟ experience for me. So often I am not
       treated as a human being. I am not treated with respect or dignity. I appreciate
       being integrated into campus life.”

       “I love the dinners. Don‟t get me wrong- the dinners are great. But what I have
       really loved is the hospitality. I love being able to sit down and interact with
       students during dinner.”

Perhaps this is best summarized in an open letter addressed to the student body signed by
Tent City residents:

       “The human spirit is uplifted when on occasion whole groups of society are
       moved to end, or relieve the plight of an unfortunate few. Congratulations, Seattle
       University, for you in fact have done so.

       Your reception of our nomadic survival mechanism demonstrates a courage and
       commitment unprecedented by any learning institutions in the country. It speaks
       volumes of the quality of your education and the character of your learning. Be
       proud, as we have been of you.” (Tent City residents, 2005)


       The decision to host Tent City was not taken lightly. In the words of SU President

Stephen J. Sundborg, SJ, “When a group of graduate students first proposed it, my

stomach dropped” (Monaghan, 2005), acknowledging his initial anxiety about the plan.

The experience impacted the entire university community, providing unique rewards and

challenges. Many issues and potential conflicts had to be addressed – the concerns of

parents, students, and community neighbors, the University‟s fears about parents‟ fears,

the extent to which the campus could be opened to Tent City residents without intruding

upon the personal boundaries of those who were more hesitant and/or fearful of the

homeless, how to organize such a large undertaking to keep the campus community safe,

how to deal with what proved to be a flood of people wanting to volunteer time and
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materials, faculty concerns about „poverty tourism‟, and not the least, how to carry out

this very time-consuming educational experiment with few additional allocated resources.

Not all members of the SU community were initially enthusiastic. A student newspaper

reflected this uneasiness in a column by noting, “Many of us fear (for) our own safety

during the months we will host the tent community” (Padgett, 2004). It was a challenge

to get accurate timely information to the university community in order to dispel rumors,

proving that official email messages are frequently not read!

       Nonetheless, it appears that the Tent City experience was extremely successful in

merging service and education to help students to appreciate at a much deeper level the

experiences of the poor and marginalized in our society. It modeled a community-wide

response and commitment that went far beyond a typical service-learning opportunity.

Students witnessed the University taking a concrete stand on an issue of justice.

Coincidentally, during this time local media were reporting the heated debate sparked by

the vociferous opposition of a very affluent neighborhood to an invitation extended to the

second Tent City encampment functioning in Seattle. The contrast between communities

was very apparent to all. In the words of one student, “If we say as a university we stand

for social justice, providing space for marginalized and suffering people is more than

saying it. We are making words into actions.”


Campbell, J., Long, A., & Merrill, A. (2005). Tent City at Seattle University: The student

       experience. Paper presented at the Seattle University Undergraduate Research

       Conference, Seattle, April.

Kolvenbach, P. (2000). The service of faith and the promotion of justice in American
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       Jesuit Higher Education. Address at Santa Clara University, October 6.

Monaghan, P. (2005). Shelter in the ivory tower. The Chronicle of Higher Education,

       March 11.

Padgett, L. (2004). Tent City promotes social justice. The Spectator, October 11.

Smith, G. (2002). Radical compassion: Finding compassion in the heart of the poor.

       Chicago: Loyola Press.

Tent City (2005). An open letter to the student body of Seattle University. February 11,

       Private communication available from the authors.

Tent City (2004) Frequently asked questions about Tent City. Seattle: SHARE/WHEEL.

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