Monthly Archives: February 2016

Just Like Old Times at the Safeway (Return of Carrie)


It had been awhile since I’d swung by the U-District Safeway on my walk to work. Sometimes I just don’t have the positive energy for it. But today I was feeling pretty good, and I wasn’t too late for work, so I diverted a block to the east and walked down Brooklyn Street.

I am so glad I did.

At the north corner of the building, where a little cutout makes for a convenient hangout spot, I ran into an older black guy in a Bulls hat (and as he proudly showed me when I asked about it, a Bulls t-shirt too). We chatted about the team for a minute. He said his name was Lionel. I gave him a granola bar and wished him a good morning.

(One thing I love about being a sports fan is that when you meet another fan, you instantly have something to bond over and discuss. I can converse knowledgeably on just about any American sport you can name (don’t know much about hockey), plus details about soccer players from around the world. All I have to do is know your sport and your team (or just where you went to college), and we can have a fairly impassioned conversation in a few minutes – and everyone goes away happy. Sports are fun. Sports are not like life. Life, as the M. Scott Peck book says, is difficult. But I digress.)

Fifty feet further down the sidewalk, sitting rather morosely in front of the store’s sliding doors, was Jason. (For some reason I want to call him Matthew every time. Don’t know why, he just looks like a Matthew. And I’ve always been bad with names.) I’ve talked to Jason dozens of times at this same spot or very nearby. Jason is in his mid-30s, with a scraggly beard and the reddened face of the chronic alcoholic. I’ve come across Jason sitting on the sidewalk cradling a six-pack at 8 a.m., looking quite content. He told me he’s been hospitalized in the past for stomach issues that are probably related to drinking. Alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease that kills people.

I chatted with Jason for a few minutes, told him to have a good one, then moved on.

Another fifty feet down the block I saw a familiar-looking couple standing at the corner of the store. I looked at the woman. I blinked. It was Carrie.

I’ve written about Carrie a number of times before on this blog (. Carrie is a cheerful white woman in her mid-30s. Carrie is from Denver – a proud Broncos fan. Carrie is a big Star Wars buff. Carrie is a mother of two kids who she doesn’t see much. Carrie is an addict. Carrie is on the streets.

I hadn’t seen Carrie in at least six months. She disappeared from the area in late summer. Her companion Carlos told me at the time that she had been hospitalized with gastrointestinal problems, and that he had lost track of her when she moved to a different hospital. Carrie and I were supposed to go see “The Force Awakens” together in December – had made a pact to do so, in fact. Then she was gone. I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again. And suddenly, unexpectedly, here she was.

I was really glad to see her, and told her so. I asked about her illness. She said she’d been in the hospital for almost two months with cirrhosis of the liver. She knew it was from drinking, and said she’d been sober almost six months, but then drank again a few weeks ago. I asked her why and she just mumbled something. But I know the story — I know how hard sobriety is. There’s a reason why people compare alcoholism with insanity.

I asked her where she was living. She said she usually stayed in a local church shelter, but sometimes they got kicked out if someone violated the rules. She sounded a bit discouraged, and tired.

Switching to happier topics, I asked her if she’d seen the movie yet. She smiled and said she saw it a month after it came out, but was dismayed that “nobody clapped at the end.” She said she was shocked by the [SPOILER ALERT] death of Han Solo in the movie, and that she really liked it overall. I said that I felt like the movie was a bit too predictable and essentially a remake of the first one. Now I wish I had just shared her typical enthusiasm – it’s more fun that way. Stop being so critical, David.

I also wish I had asked her about the Super Bowl – she must have been elated by the Broncos’ victory. But I was a little bit stunned at seeing her again, and forgot.

Carrie didn’t look so great – some of the light had gone out from her eyes. She had a scarred upper lip. She didn’t have the same smile, the same laugh, the same joy. I gave her a hug, told her how happy I was to see her, told her and Carlos to have a great day. And then I walked away.


force awakens

The One-Night Count (Written 11/8/14)

[NOTE: This is an old Facebook post I wrote in 2014 that I recently rediscovered and posted here on the blog. The 2016 One-Night Count just happened a few weeks ago, and (as everyone expected) the number of homeless in King County continued to soar — up almost 20 percent overall from 2015. I’ll write more about this soon; it was a bit heartbreaking and discouraging to write about it when it went down.]

Every year in January, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness does a One Night Count. Volunteers go around the city/county and count the number of people they find sleeping either on the street or in their cars (the unsheltered homeless). Here are the results from January 2014:

– 3,117 people had no shelter in King County, a 14 percent increase from the previous year..

– 2,392 unsheltered homeless people were counted in Seattle, with about a third staying in cars or trucks. One Night Count does not include those staying in shelters or transitional housing.

Yep, this problem is getting much worse (and pretty much has been every year) despite the lip service that we as a city/county/society keep paying to “eradicating homelessness.” It’s kind of hard to fight the growing rich poor gap in this city and elsewhere, the loss of manufacturing and other good-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree (or advanced degree). Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to skyrocket in Seattle, with rents rising steadily, forcing people out of their homes. We also haven’t built a lot of subsidized housing in the last decade (budget cuts, city bureaucracy, and lenient laws on set-asides and affordable housing requirements).

And of course, there aren’t nearly enough shelter beds for everyone homeless. Those that do exist are sometimes dangerous. And many shelters won’t take couples or families, so these people must choose between a bed for the night and staying with their loved ones.

But we keep building expensive condos and brand-new apartment buildings, don’t we? That’s the free market. That’s the “winners and losers” America you and I live in. We made that — we elected the leaders.

The people that have full-time work at Microsoft, Google, Amazon, UW (where I work), and the city/county/state governments might struggle a bit (or not) but they will be fine. They will have a roof overhead.

But more than 3,000 people in the county at last count (a count that is probably much lower than the actual count — people don’t exactly like to be found and counted when they are homeless and living on the margins).do not. They are living on the streets of our city through the cold winter days and nights.

They have been cast aside by us and forgotten. They are most definitely not fine. And it’s getting colder by the day out there.