This Shoreline Couple Lets Homeless Families Camp In Their Yard

Mar 3, 2016

Brad Lancaster is an attorney. His wife Kim is a paralegal. They live in a small 770-square-foot house with their dog Sofie in Shoreline, Washington. 

When KUOW visited recently, 16 homeless people had also set up their tents in the backyard. That makes 18 people sharing one bathroom, one small kitchen and one washer/dryer.

Technically, by allowing the tent city to move into their backyard in November the Lancasters are breaking city zoning rules. Brad Lancaster said the city codes are being used as a bludgeon against homeless people. 

“I’m an attorney, I knew it was illegal. But I’m an attorney, I also knew I knew how to fight. And so I did," he said. For now the city has agreed to allow the campers to remain until April. 

Kim Lancaster said others are taking note. The couple has been approached by people interested in hosting their own tent city.  

That makes the Lancasters' backyard a testing ground for not only the legal issues, but also the day-to-day reality of hosting a large group of homeless people in their living space.

The Lancasters got to know some of the residents after the tent city moved across the street from Brad Lancaster's law office. He said they stopped being scary stereotypes to him. 

“I saw that their problems were very much like the problems that everyone has," he said. "Often, instead of having one or two, they have three or four. And some of [the problems] have collided to make them homeless.

The back of the house has a large enclosed patio. There's a fire pit with benches and white wicker chairs to sit around it; a refrigerator with a meal schedule; donated food and toiletries; a bowl of oranges on a table.
Credit KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott
I've been a happier human being since the camp moved in. -Kim Lancaster

Although the tents are put on top of pallettes on the high ground of the yard, rain is still a problem. During a recent rain storm, campers crowded in the patio and house for extra shelter. 'There were bodies everywhere,' said Michael Gallo.
Credit KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Every situation under the sun can make a person homeless. That saying of one paycheck away is very true. -Aaron Ervin, tent city resident

Signs of kids are everywhere: a stroller under a tarp, a progress report on the fridge, a tub of toys on the patio.
Credit KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

The Lancasters were motivated to invite the tent city to their backyard when they heard there were kids at the camp.

The tent city currently includes a family with four kids, ages 12, 10, 6 and 2. The Lancasters said it was a lot of fun to have the kids around.

“It’s been really great to come home at night and have the family with the four kids in the house. The kids are doing their homework and mom and dad are fixing dinner and the little 2-year-old is running around," Kim Lancaster said. "We enjoy everybody, but the kids are just special."

Brad Lancaster echoed his wife.

“The parents of those kids are excellent parents. They are actually quite astonishing, being able to keep their family together and have such bright and socially-adept children," he said.

Tent city resident Michael Gallo and his wife planned on returning to Alaska to rejoin their own sons, ages 2 and 7. He has lived in different tent cities but said this one has been the best.

“There are still a lot of good people around, you just have to get to know them to find out who they are," he said. "There’s a lot of times where I go, man, the world stinks. It’s not worth it anymore. And then something comes along like this and changes the whole outlook for me."

Homeless tent camp resident Michael Gallo.
Credit KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott
It's amazing how love and joy spreads when it's started from the right direction. -Michael Gallo, tent city resident
Homeless tent camp residents Michael Gallo and Aaron Ervin talk around the fire pit in the Lancasters' outdoor patio.
Credit KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Gallo and fellow resident Aaron Ervin said that it was important to be seen just as people, not as homeless. 

"We’re not from a different planet, that we just came down here and said let’s sleep on your streets," Ervin said. 

Gallo said there were lots of naysayers when the tent city first moved in, but attitudes started to change once the Lancasters went to bat for them. 

“Next thing you know, some neighbors started showing up, getting to meet us and seeing what we really are, that we aren’t all drug addicts and alcoholics and horrible homeless people," Gallo said. "We are people who have and are going through rough patches in our lives."

Kim Lancaster said that her own outlook has changed. When the tent city first came, she acted as a "hostess" -- making sure dinners were done, taking care of the fire pit. But she said she learned to step back and just be a friend to the campers.

Ervin disagreed with that statement slightly.

“The feeling that I get is more than just a friend," he said. "I’ve never met these people, but they’re family. It’s something that we all could truly aspire to be ourselves, regardless of wherever we are in life, whatever we’re going through."

And like any family, Ervin, a San Francisco 49ers fan, couldn't help needle Brad Lancaster about the Seattle Seahawks' loss against the Carolina Panthers in the playoffs.

"You don't want to make me cry, do you?" Brad Lancaster joked. 

Credit KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott
America’s always had a little bit of a tortured relationship with its people who are in trouble. -Brad Lancaster
The Lancasters' home in Shoreline. The green tarp enclosure to the left includes two Honey Buckets for the residents to use, although they also have access to the bathroom in the house.
Credit KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Besides hosting the tent city, the Lancasters have continued to work for homeless concerns in Shoreline. Brad Lancaster attends the Shoreline City Council  meetings and said they're getting used to him.

Kim Lancaster, along with her Rotary club, is delving into the tiny house movement. They plan to build a model in the Lancasters' front yard.

“I would like there to be a place for every homeless person. I would like it to be better than a tent," Kim Lancaster said. 

This story was originally published on Feb. 25, 2016.