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Originally published Monday, November 1, 2010 at 3:57 PM

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Guest columnist

Embrace the opportunity for partnership with Nickelsville

A Seattle citizens panel is recommending the establishment of a permanent, city-sanctioned homeless camp. Guest columnist David D. Anderson talks about the richness of his church's experience hosting Nickelsville.

Special to The Times

I SUPPORT the Seattle citizens panel recommendations that include establishing a permanent, city-sanctioned homeless encampment of 100 to 150 people. I hope the recommendations are enacted quickly.

The report and next steps took on new meaning when I saw the list of possibilities: One of the recommended sites is a block from the home my partner and I own and live in.

As a Christian, I hear the call of Jesus to reach out to all of God's children, especially the poor and the vulnerable. His life and message challenge me to be hospitable and to seek justice, including the basic necessities of life, for people. Safe shelter is as basic as it gets.

As a citizen, I know the expense of finding housing options for all people. The King County 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness takes determination, forbearance and funding. It is cheaper to house people than to deal with the costs of not housing people: the costs to the individuals, the medical costs, the enforcement costs, the costs to society and our psyche when we turn against each other.

And I have my personal experience with Nickelsville. I am the administrator at University Congregational United Church of Christ. We hosted Nickelsville in our parking lot during the cold months of December 2008 to March 2009, and again welcomed Nickelsville to our parking lot this August.

As the church administrator I am involved with the realities and know of the challenges presented by an encampment community. Our congregation has a "Hosting Team," and the partnership between the congregation and Nickelsville residents has been great. Like any community of 75 to 100, there have been times when issues arise: a barking dog, a fight, a rule violation.

Yet I also know that Nickelsville screens every resident, responds to issues immediately, has high standards for behavior, and enforces the agreed-upon rules and parameters. The problems have been few and minor.

And I know how beneficial it has been for the residents and the neighborhood. Both times we have hosted Nickelsville I have found a reduction in graffiti and litter in the neighborhood. I found the Nickelsville residents willing to address neighborhoodwide issues and concerns.

One example: Nickelsville security was the first to respond to an attempted nighttime break-in at the church recently (their residents were all accounted for at the time). They heard the breaking glass, called the police, secured the building, and helped us with investigation and cleanup. They were great neighbors and terrific allies.

But even more than these actions, standards and behaviors, I have come to know people. Individuals with stories, hopes and determination. Real humans with much to offer and teach me. I have been challenged and inspired. I have been touched and changed. I am far richer for the connections.

If the site in our neighborhood is chosen to be the one to host a more-permanent encampment, I will welcome the people of Nickelsville. I will be glad for the additional security they will provide the neighborhood. I will be proud that our neighborhood and city are forming partnerships and honoring the self-determination of people who are confronting reality and finding solutions.

I will be glad that my tax dollars are being directed in ways that offer help and show good stewardship for the investment. And I will look to my faith, where being a neighbor is a profound commitment and an opportunity to find God's presence, to guide me in being the kind of neighbor I know I'll find.

David D. Anderson is the church business administrator at University Congregational United Church of Christ.

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