I haven’t written any stories about the poor and homeless I encounter on the streets of the U-District in a long time. Work has been crazy. And since I just moved into the neighborhood, I have been meaning to write a post. (I had been priced out of Greenwood when my apartment building recently was purchased by a large developer. Gotta love Seattle in 2016.)
As if on cue, I encountered Dan outside Safeway this morning. As his sign indicates, he’s 62 years old and needs help.
When I said hello, he immediately launched into his story. He hasn’t seen a dentist in years and has major dental problems. He said he need about $1,000 worth of work, but doesn’t have insurance. I asked about Medicare, and he said he has it, but it doesn’t cover dental or vision – he has an issue with his glasses too. Teeth issues are a common and major problem for the poor and homeless – it’s hard to focus on getting (or keeping) a job, or taking care of your children, or anything if your mouth is constantly in pain.
One way to numb that pain, if you can’t afford to pay for expensive dental work, is legal or illegal substances. But that’s a topic for another post.
He continued to talk about his issues, explaining that he traced his dental problems to poor treatment by an orthodontist. I mentioned that sometimes they have free clinics providing dental work for the uninsured, but he said that he needs multiple visits to get major work done, so a one-time clinic visit wouldn’t help.
He also said he had a lawsuit going against the UW Medical Center for some poor (or rejected) treatment he received there. “I have the best lawyers in the country – I’ll be a millionaire soon.” I couldn’t tell if he was joking or he really believed it. Maybe that hope kept him going.
In the meantime, he asked me for a dollar (in exchange for a picture – but I would have given him the dollar even if he had refused a photo). I loved his two signs, which showed a mix of discouragement (“Poor, disabled, 62, not much else to do”) and a positive outlook (a checklist reading “a bit of change? A dollar? a sandwich? Love? Thanks, Dan”).
I shook Dan’s hand, wished him luck, and gave him a buck and a granola bar I had in my bag. Then I walked the rest of the way to work.