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At SPU, Students And Tent City Residents Bond Over Poetry

Monica Spain

With homelessness on the rise, colleges now offer classes on the subject. At Seattle Pacific University, hosting a tent city easily integrates students with campers in the classroom. 

But students there have taken that relationship a step further. At a recent poetry slam, barriers between campers and college kids dissolved.

Monique Vandenbroucke is a sophomore studying psychology at SPU. Every Wednesday, she cruises through Tent City 3, which is temporarily located in the heart of campus. She invites campers to join students in writing and sharing poetry.

On a recent night, it was a circle of 12, split almost evenly between students and campers. Jim Ketcham is a regular.

“Yeah, it’s a challenge, to share at that level, but it’s also exciting. It’s creative, and a good release,” Ketcham said.

Writing poetry is what helped Vandenbrouke through some of her own struggles with mental health. She and tent city resident Anthony Velarde noodled with his words.

“You may think I’m high/Until you look me in the eye/But it’s no lie/That I’m just bi/Polar … lost my words,” Velarde said.

Soon the feedback session morphed into exchanges about personal struggles. A camper drew a picture of her dream home with places for her kids to play. Students talked about theology classes and attempts to understand the divine.

Tent City has just one week left at SPU, and campers and students are wondering whether they’ll be able to stay in touch. Vandenbrouke would like to keep sharing poetry but isn’t sure if it will happen.

“I don’t know. I mean, that’s part of the sad and scary part about Tent City: What’s next?” she said.

Tent City moves to Shoreline in March.