The Force Awakens

I saw the new Star Wars movie on Christmas Eve with my brother Chris and my kids, Kayla and Nick.

But one person was missing from this group – Carrie.

As you may recall, I met Carrie about a year ago. She was hanging out near the entrance of the Safeway near my work, where so many homeless people congregate. Carrie was wearing a Denver Broncos sweatshirt, which sparked our first conversation (she grew up in Denver). I kept seeing her on my way to or from work, and she always had a smile. We talked about the trials and tribulations of sobriety, parenting (she has two kids, like me) and Hawks vs. Broncos. And we talked about our childhood love of Star Wars.

(I believe Carrie was homeless. She had been in a religious-based addiction and housing program, but she got kicked out and was sleeping on the street or wherever she could find to crash.)

I have fond memories of seeing the first three Star Wars movies as a kid (and let’s face it, the only three worth mentioning up until this new one). So did Carrie. In fact, she grew up with a huge crush on Harrison Ford – she knew all about his family, and also about how he landed the Han Solo role after being brought in from his carpentry job, to feed lines to other actors auditioning for the part.

Carrie was the first one to tell me the date that the new Star Wars movie was coming out. Back in February, when she mentioned this, I proposed that we go see the movie together when it came out. She enthusiastically agreed. We would mention it almost every time we saw each other.

However, last September I heard that Carrie was in the hospital. The details are below, but suffice to say that her continued heavy drinking had caught up with her. (Carrie had been in and out of rehab many times, and her addiction was the primary reason she was homeless and had lost custody of her children.) Since then, Carrie has not reappeared at the Safeway or elsewhere in the U-District. Neither has her friend, who had informed me of her hospitalization. Since he wasn’t family, I don’t think he was allowed to learn where she went after leaving the hospital.

Wherever Carrie is now, I hope that she’s safe and getting help. I miss her smile. I enjoyed The Force Awakens… but I would have enjoyed it more if Carrie had been there.

Carrie

Last night I swung by the Safeway on 47th and Brooklyn to buy a copy of Real Change and see who was hanging out. (I’ve found it to be quite the happening place in the evening.) I did find a vendor selling the paper, but I also ran into Carlos. He told me some disturbing news – my friend Carrie (pictured) is in the hospital. It was hard to make out his story, but it was either because she fell, or because of her heavy drinking, or perhaps both.

I had been thinking about how I hadn’t seen Carrie at the Safeway lately, and actually had a premonition that something might have happened to her. I also got the sad news yesterday that a former coworker’s husband had just died of cancer, leaving behind a grieving widow and son.
Hug your loved ones extra tight.

Carrie

Greg and T.J.

The other morning (Wednesday, March 11), I had one of the more interesting conversations in my life with two men. Both shared some similar life traits, including homelessness, but their situations and outlooks were quite different.

As readers of this blog will know, some mornings as I walk to work I can’t face the homelessness situation that is ingrained in the neighborhood. Maybe I’m tired, maybe it’s raining, maybe I’m worried about my son or about some work project that awaits me. Maybe I’m just depressed. Many times, when I feel that way, I don’t go by the U-District Safeway to see if there’s anyone hanging out there. On those days, I just can’t face the harsh reality of homelessness and poverty that so many are dealing with. It’s too much.

But on this particular morning, I was feeling great. I was also a little early, so I didn’t hesitate to alter my route to walk by the Safeway. As I approached, I saw two guys lingering outside the store, one sitting at the corner of the building and one standing in front. For some reason, I almost walked by the sitting figure (he was rocking out to music on his phone and looked like perhaps he wasn’t going to be open to conversation). But I’ve tried to make it a rule to say hi to whoever I meet on these Safeway forays, so I greeted him.

He instantly lit up, turned down his music and warmly returned my greeting. It was like he had been waiting for someone to talk to him (hopefully he hadn’t been waiting too long, since it was only 7:50 in the morning). He said his name was Greg, and he was 42 years old. He sat on a blanket with various artifacts surrounding him – small boxes, tobacco, different trinkets, his phone. I saw that his music was actually coming out of a speaker attached to his nearby bicycle (connected to his phone through a Bluetooth connection).

Suddenly a tall, thin young man walked up and handed Greg a bag with a donut in it. He pulled out a small wad of cash and handed it to him as well, and began talking to Greg. Clearly, they knew each other.

I began to talk to the younger guy as well. His said his name was T.J. and that he was 22 years old. (Pictured below.) It turned out that T.J. and Greg know each other just from hanging out on the Ave (as the main drag in the U-District is called). Greg is homeless (I’m not sure where he sleeps). T.J. is technically homeless, but it seems to be by choice – he had a nice-looking car parked nearby that he sleeps in. He also mentioned that he just got a large check for some unspecified reason, and that he had taken a date out to a very expensive restaurant the previous night. It was unclear if he currently has a job, but he definitely gave the impression that he wouldn’t have trouble finding one of he wanted to.

T.J. was clean-cut and nicely dressed, and very articulate about his life and the world at large. He told me that he had been a basketball player at Central Washington University before getting injured. (This reminded me of another guy about T.J.’s age who I met a few years ago; he had a promising college baseball career cut short by injury, then got addicted to the pain pills that were prescribed for him to deal with his physical problems. It seems that oftentimes these kids are recruited for their athletic talent, but once they can no longer play at a high level, they are not encouraged or able to stay in school. Some of them end up addicts and/or homeless rather than college graduates, let alone professional athletes like many had dreamed or expected.)

T.J. had previously been living with his father in the area, but said they didn’t get along very well, that his dad had physically abused him when he was younger. At one point he actually expressed grudging appreciation (or at least acknowledgement) for the role his dad played in making him physically tough and able to defend himself on the streets.  However, T.J. also seemed to have a violent streak — he described doing jail time for an assault charge, after he severely beat a fellow high school student in a dispute over a girlfriend, an incident that included him punching out the principal and school security guard.

(He also told me a harrowing story about getting mugged by a group of teenagers in south Seattle – having a gun pulled on him, being pistol-whipped and nearly bleeding to death. A homeless person found him lying in a parking lot and called 911, or he might have died.)

The subject of alcohol and drugs came up. Greg admitted that he had an alcohol and drug problem. He still uses alcohol and marijuana but has mostly given up the methamphetamine. T.J. said that he regularly uses marijuana but doesn’t drink much. In fact, he said he gave Greg a fifth of hard alcohol the other day that he happened to have in his car. (I quizzed him on why he had this bottle in his car if he doesn’t really drink, but his answer was vague.) Greg expressed appreciation for this gesture, saying, “I shared that bottle around with everyone [on the street] the other night. Do you know how much happiness that bottle created?” T.J. was glad to hear it.

Greg then asked T.J. if he had any “pie” (apparently slang for marijuana). The younger man went to his car and returned with a small amount of the drug (pot/dope/grass/cannabis/weed/mary jane/wacky tobaccky/pick your favorite term) and gave it to Greg. I mentioned something about marijuana being addicting, and T.J. immediately rejected that notion, arguing that cannabis was not an addictive drug. We discussed this and came to an agreement that marijuana was not physically addicting, but it was mentally and emotionally addicting. T.J.’s attitude that using marijuana was no big deal seems to be a commonly held one today, especially by younger people. Often people will say that using pot is much better than drinking alcohol. This view has gotten even stronger and more widespread since Washington state legalized marijuana two years ago, I have observed.

I mentioned that I had been forced to give up drinking because it was damaging my life, and that addiction ran deep in my family and has caused many problems. I asked T.J. why he would give Greg alcohol and drugs if it was clear that the drugs were not a good thing for him. T.J. seemed to think that it was ok to do this, that he was just trying to help out. Greg explained that since he was homeless, there wasn’t much for him to do all day. He said that the people he encountered during his days were typically pretty rude to him, or ignored him. He used the alcohol and drugs to cope with this kind of life.

(I thought of this discussion a couple days later, when I read an interesting article on the Huffington Post site that talked about how studies have shown that the lack of social connection is one of the root causes of alcoholism and drug addiction. Read it at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html.)

Greg also drew a distinction between some drug users and others, saying, “You see that kid over there?” He gestured in the direction of the other person I had noticed earlier, a young man asking for change outside the Safeway entrance. “That guy is addicted to heroin,” he said with derision in his voice. I made some comment about how people struggled with addiction at all different levels and for different reasons. He agreed with this. At another point, T.J. told Greg he was glad that Greg was no longer regularly using meth. “If you were still using meth, I know I would find you over there in the alley someday, lying dead in a puddle.”

In regard to his situation, Greg also mentioned something about how he didn’t care about money, didn’t want to buy into “the system.” T.J. also told me that Greg had a house in Portland that was currently being sold, but that Greg wouldn’t see any of the money. I asked Greg about this, and he seemed a little uncertain about the whole thing, saying that his ex-wife was involved in the transaction. I let it go.

There was one other moment during this very engaging discussion that stood out to me. T.J. was in the middle of a long answer to one of my questions when he noticed a man walking by whom he knew. He cut himself off mid-sentence to talk to the man, who had some kind of scar or injury near his mouth. After talking with the man for a minute, T.J. turned back to me, an angry look on his face.

“See that? That’s horrible,” he said. “If that happened to me, I would go after those kids and kick their ass.” Apparently the other man had recently been jumped by a group of guys on the Ave over some minor disagreement. T.J. clearly cared about the homeless people hanging out in the neighborhood, and wanted to look out for them.

By this point someone else had stopped to talk to Greg – it was turning into quite a gathering. I told Greg and T.J. that I had to get to work. I gave Greg a dollar “just on the principle of the thing” (he clearly had his buddy T.J. to look out for him). He interrupted his discussion to thank me heartily.

“You come talk to me anytime, man,” he said with a smile, “no matter who I’m talking to.” I shook both their hands, repeated their names and mine, and walked away.

 

T.J.

TJ

It’s been awhile since I posted to this blog. I’m not sure if it’s because I am a little bit discouraged to see the homeless still out in force day after day after day on my way to work, or I’ve gotten more busy, or just a combination of laziness and being a little late to work on many mornings.

But I did swing by the Safeway a week ago and ran into a young man panhandling on the sidewalk. He said his name was Ricky, or as his hospital bracelet read, “Ricardo.” Ricky told me that he had just been released from Harborview. I asked him what for. He said it was for “DTs.”

As many probably know, that’s short for “delirium tremens.” According to the Wikipedia article, delirium tremens is “an acute episode of delirium that is usually caused by withdrawal from alcohol.” It’s basically what happens when you repeatedly poison yourself with alcohol over the course of years, and then (try to) stop drinking. Unlike marijuana and some other drugs, if your body is addicted to alcohol, suddenly ceasing to ingest it can literally kill you.

I told Ricky I was sorry to hear that, and he said (almost as if reading from a script), “It’s my own fault. I have no one to blame but myself.” I asked him where he was staying, mentioning the youth shelter where I’ve been volunteering. He said that he was too old for the shelter, and that he slept in the park.

I saw that he had a bunch of Grateful Dead pins on the brim of his hat and asked for a closer look. With some pride, he turned the hat around to show me (see picture). I admired them and we chatted about one of the last Dead shows in Seattle, which I attended (in 1994, the year before Jerry Garcia died). He said something about an upcoming show by the remaining members of the band – possibly that he was hoping to attend.

I told him to hang in there. He asked me for some change. I gave him a dollar and walked away.

Ricky

Ted

A few days ago I swung by the Safeway on the way to work and met a guy asking for change out in front. He said his name was Ted. He was probably in his 60s (sometimes it’s hard to tell with people that live on the streets, because they age so much faster than the rest of us). He was a little haggard and missing quite a few teeth, but he was a lively guy with much to tell me about being homeless.

I asked Ted if he had considered selling the Real Change newspaper, rather than just asking for money, but he objected to the policy of having to purchase the papers up front. He’d rather “be his own boss” by just straight up panhandling. (Random Aside: Why do they call it panhandling? You don’t ever see someone using a pan to ask for change.)

So I asked him where he slept. He said he had a pretty sweet setup about a mile away, on a greenbelt on the east side of Lake Union (“I have a nice view of the water,” he claimed). He said there are three tents there, including his, and whenever anyone else tried to move in, they have a standard story about how the DOT has a three-tent-maximum policy for that area. It seems to work, and nobody hassles them.

I asked Ted about Seattle’s growing number of tent cities for the homeless, but he dismissed that option: too controlling and “cliquish,” plus there are criminals hanging out in them. “I went there once and the first guy I saw was a sex offender,” he said. I remarked that of course they had to have rules and standards, and wondered if they did any kind of background checks on the residents. We agreed, however, that if they were too strict on the criminal background checks, very few homeless people would probably qualify to live there.

I asked about housing in the area, mentioning how the average rent in the U-District must be ridiculous with all the brand-new buildings opening up. He said that there are rooming houses in the neighborhood, but that he has been banned from most of them (all owned by one couple) because of his past as a heroin dealer. (He claims to be out of the business now – and nine months clean on Suboxone — but former customers kept coming around and rapping on his window, looking for a fix. When he moved to a different room, the users kept showing up, and the person that moved into his old room got sick of it. So he is no longer allowed to rent in any of those places.)

Ted also had some interesting anecdotes about sleeping under the freeway. One time he had a great setup under I-5 – two-room tent, king-size mattress, some good clothes, a bike, etc. Then he went to California to scatter his uncle’s ashes, and when he came back the DOT had completely cleared everything out and thrown it all away. The guys living near him in that spot hadn’t lifted a finger to save his stuff (I think he said they were “tweakers,” which apparently is another term for meth addicts).

He also talked about how some people actually built plywood platforms amongst the I-Beams under the freeway to live on. Do it yourself hi-rise condos. He also said he liked living under the freeway because it was a natural alarm clock – when the traffic died down you went to sleep, and when it started up again about 5 or 6 a.m., you woke up and started your day.

I thanked Ted for the interesting conversation, but said that I had to get to work. I gave him a buck, and walked away.

Homeless Count Goes Up, Especially at Safeway (1/28/15)

This was not a surprise (link below). Nor was seeing Jason today outside the Safeway. He refused my offer of granola bars because he can’t chew them.

There was a woman lying on the sidewalk outside the main Safeway entrance. She was covered in a blanket with a sign saying she needed surgery. I should have asked her if she was getting necessary services for her condition, not that I know if these are actually available in our for-profit health care system. I should have done something to try to help. Instead, I gave her two granola bars and went to work.

King County Homeless Population Up Sharply in One-Night Count

http://blogs.seattletimes.com/…/king-county-homeless-popul…/

Trying to Get Someone to Want to Change (1/20/15)

This chilly morning, as I was parking my car in the usual spot four blocks from work, I saw Jason walk by. Jason is a young man who I’ve seen regularly since I first started this blog over two months ago. He sleeps underneath an overhang outside an auto body shop in the neighborhood. At 7:50 a.m. he was trudging to his usual spot, sitting on the cold ground outside the Safeway on Brooklyn.

As I’ve said, many mornings I debate whether I should take my usual walking route to my building, which goes by the church where someone sleeps in the doorway, or detour a block and swing by the Safeway. As soon as I saw Jason walk by, I knew I had to go by the Safeway.

This time, I wanted to talk seriously to Jason. He had said he needed to get his ID from his Mom before he could get a job. But he got that ID weeks ago, and he’s still out there. When I found him outside the store, I directly asked him why he was still out here and had he gotten a job. He mumbled something about waiting until the spring, and kept rolling his cigarette. I told him I hated to still seem him out here in the cold. He didn’t respond. I rambled for a minute about my own family, and he continued to stare down without responding (he usually does). This time, although I had a dollar in my pocket, I told him to take care and walked away without giving it to him.

I’m reading a great book called Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow (http://bit.ly/1yE7j1q — I highly recommend it). It has several chapters about how we cannot control others – that everyone is on their own journey, and to try to compel someone to do something is futile and only frustrates us. In fact, doing this is not about them – it’s about us, and how we want to control and meet our needs by trying to change someone else.

This is how it is with Jason. I can’t make him want to do anything. If he (or anyone) asks me for help, then I surely can try my best to do so. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be giving and loving and do what we can. That’s important. But that person has to want it for themselves. We can hope that they will take the steps to improve their situation, but ultimately it is up to them.

I have yet to take a photo of Jason (I sometimes feel that it’s an invasion of privacy). Today I realized I can do that without showing his face. But that face is vivid in my mind. He is in my thoughts. I wish better things for him. Maybe, in time, they will happen.

The City Begins to Take Action (1/15/15)

The issue/story of homelessness continues to expand and get more attention in mainstream media and elsewhere. It’s nice to know Seattle is not sweeping this huge social problem under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist.

The photo below (published huge on the front page of the dead-tree version, which I still get delivered every day because I’m old and stubborn) shows a walkway that leads to the downtown ferry terminal. When I did the big sleeping bag giveaway event a month ago, we visited this spot and saw those camped there. We even talked to one confused young woman there, someone who a volunteer working with me thought might be the victim of human trafficking.

Anyway, this story brought that memory back. A sad one, in a way, but the more exposure this issue gets, the more likely it is that at some point we will decide (as an individual/community/city/region/country) that we need to come up with real solutions. month ago, we visited this spot and saw those camped there. We even talked to one confused young woman there, someone who a volunteer working with me thought might be the victim of human trafficking. Anyway, this story brought that memory back. A sad one, in a way, but the more exposure this issue gets, the more likely it is that at some point we will decide (as an individual/community/city/region/country) that we need to come up with real solutions.

Anyway, this story brought that memory back. A sad one, in a way, but the more exposure this issue gets, the more likely it is that at some point we will decide (as an individual/community/city/region/country) that we need to come up with real solutions.

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2025464425_homelessencampmentsxml.html?cmpid=2628

bridge by ferry

New Year, Same Sight (1/9/15)

New year, same sight on my way to work (outside the former Mars Hill in the U-District). This is not a repeat from the other five times I’ve posted pretty much the same photo.

I haven’t forgotten the homeless or my blog posts, just been incredibly busy with work and life. Will post more soon… this problem hasn’t gone away, and won’t for a long time, I’m afraid. But we keep hoping, praying and working on it.

mars hill 010915