I’m the type of person who fast forwards movies when they get too intense, or checks the end of a book to make sure it has a good ending before I go back to reading it. So for any of you out there that are like me, I’ll give you a hint: I made 5 new friends that Thursday in the park, and came away with some very different perspectives from when I started out. You should also know that I’m going to have to break this up into at least 2 posts because I have so much to say about it. Now you can read the rest of my blog post in peace.
I mentioned to Philip that there was one guy who had yelled to me as I approached the information booth that he was already falling in love with me – I thought if all else failed, he might be willing to chat. As Philip approached me after walking around for a bit, I felt sure that I was just going to end up reading my book for a while in the square and then going home. But he surprised me by telling me that there was a table of guys that would be willing to let me “get to know them.” (note: not “let me interview them,” but get to know them , which is what I requested this time).
I was so nervous, but walked over and sat down with a group of gentlemen seated around the chess tables on the SW corner of O2. They went around and introduced themselves: Daniel, Felix, John, and Robert. And then I tried to explain myself to them without sounding too much like an idiot (pretty sure I didn’t succeed). I had so much that I wanted to learn from them, but no idea where to start, because any question that you have about homelessness seems like a weighted question. One guy in the group, John, was so funny and relaxed that it put me almost immediately at ease. He put it out there by saying “ask us anything you want!” And so I did.
I proceeded to ask them where they stay at night, what they think about the other shelters in the area, what they would like to see changed in Pioneer Square, areas of P2 that they think are shady, and so on. I feel a little overwhelmed at the moment about how to share 2 hours of great conversation with five very different guys on this little blog.
[Forgive my memory in the descriptions below… I didn’t want to take notes, just tried to soak it all in.]
Daniel: best described as a little odd (he blames past years of drug and alcohol), sober since 1994 (I think – I wish I’d had a tape recorder!), has lived in Seattle for a very long time, has very firm opinions on the political problems in regards to homelessness
Felix: quiet guy from South America (Nicaragua maybe? maybe Central America?), used to work at Lowes until he was laid off and hasn’t been able to find work since
John: the outspoken guy of the group, a drummer by night, comedian by day, also prior drug and alcohol problems (he blames the drummer mentality), very charismatic
Robert: laid back, chain smoked throughout the whole conversation (but was good natured when I gave him a hard time), had a lot to say about Seattle’s homeless system other systems he’s seen
All four guys currently rent beds at the Bread of Life. The rules for the Bread of Life are as follows:
- Wait in line to get in by 5:30
- Once you’re in, you stay in for the rest of the night
- No drugs or alcohol permitted (you get breathalized)
- Everyone has to take a shower (they assign each person a towel that they have to bring back that night)
- They sit through at least a one hour religion “class”
- $5/ night includes room and board
Interesting opinions from these guys? They don’t like the Union Gospel Mission – they didn’t really put it into words, but the common opinion was that it was looked down by many of the guys in the neighborhood.
Here’s a few of the questions with the answers summed up (not direct quotes!)
Q: What places in Pioneer Square make you uncomfortable?
A: Belltown (unanimous – all of them said they disliked Belltown.)
Q: Do any of you ask people for money?
A: Robert: I ask John all the time!
A: John: Sure, we ask each other, but not random people on the street
Q: What do you think could change in Pioneer Square?
A: The cops don’t arrest the drug dealers enough – and even if they do, they have to be arrested 9 times before they’re prosecuted. Nine times! Even when put in jail, sometimes it’s only for a month, and they go right back to what they were doing before
The interesting thing is what I learned about the different ways that people are homeless (for lack of a better way to describe it). For example, these four guys that I talked to all pay for a bed at night – they don’t appreciate the small percentage of homeless that reflect poorly on the rest of them. The ones who beg for money, or try to sell prescription pills, or harass people walking around the neighborhood. The “funny” part of the conversation is that while we’re all sitting there talking, a man stumbled up to us and tried to sell prescription pills to everyone at the table. They were all very annoyed and told him to get lost.
One thing I loved that they told me about is that they look out for the neighborhood. It’s where they live, too, and they don’t appreciate the people hanging out around O2 that make it unsafe.
I still haven’t written a fraction of what I learned from them, but in an effort to not write a book in one post, I’m going to split it up again. Next post, I’ll write about Joseph, the fifth guy I met with, as well as more answers to the many questions that I had for them.
I’m not quite sure how to write out my intentions here without sounding insincere, but I hope that anyone reading these few blog posts has an open mind and will learn even a part of what I feel I’m learning.