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I drove less than a mile-and-a-half from my suburban Woodinville home to the public park known as Coal Creek Natural Area. It was transformed into Camp Unity overnight.
Once you accept the premise that in 2016 there will be human beings that live in tents like it’s 1816, you can say that Camp Unity seems nice.
I spoke with a woman named Autumn. She told me that she and her husband moved here from New Mexico for health reasons, and that they couldn’t find comparable housing.
“Our apartment that was $560 in Albuquerque was like $1,500 here,” Autumn told me. “Back in New Mexico, they have rent control.”
Autumn told me she loves it here and that this location made her feel “like I’m in heaven. Who wouldn’t want nature like this for their backyard? I’ve already explored all the trails back there.”
Autumn gave me a tour of Camp Unity. It’s clean and well-organized. I did not see garbage strewn about, and there are plenty of fire extinguishers around the encampment. Dumpsters and portable toilets have been supplied, and the campers have taken over the covered community area to house their offices, a makeshift kitchen, and “the heat up room.” Which consisted of some plastic lawn chairs surrounding a propane tank with a heating element on top.
I was informed that churches bring hot meals each day, and that I was welcome to join them for dinner. I spotted half a dozen tin foil catering-style pans filled with everything from chicken to potato salad on a picnic table.
Camp Unity has a fully-stocked pantry with basics like bread and spaghetti sauce. There is also an area for donated clothing and other supplies.
I was told that Camp Unity is being sponsored by Blessed Teresa Of Calcutta Catholic Church and that they are fully permitted for the next 90 days. I drove the quarter of a mile across the street to the church grounds.
One question: Why aren’t the campers using part of the expansive lot owned by the church? In fact, the church property seems to be bigger than the public park.
It didn’t seem like anyone was on drugs as I was introduced to campers near the donuts and freshly brewed coffee table. At least as far as I could tell. I met a cute and friendly pit bull pup called Princess, took a few photos, and was on my way.
My impression as I drove home was that the campers I met today appear to have resigned themselves to this station in life. I didn’t hear anyone talking about wanting to move back into traditional housing or re-assimilate into “normal” society. Maybe, for a small percentage of people, this is a new definition of the American Dream — live rent free in a beautiful, idyllic park; have a church bring you a hot meal at night and donuts in the morning; and spend your days walking the trails in the woods and wondering how you got here.