Saturday, October 30, 2010

One more thing about Seattle

Just like Salt Lake City, Seattle has a homeless newspaper called Real Change. I met one of the street vendors for Real Change; his name is John.

John has worked in a lot of different positions in his life. He has been a window washer for houses, offices, and skyscrapers, a welder, and a ton of other trades through out his life. He is diabetic, has ADD, emphysema, and a hernia from twisting wrong while holding a ladder. He in foster home after foster home from the time he was 15 months until he was 17 years old. He has a 4th grade education. When he took the GED test he scored an average of 48 out of 50 on each part of it. He has crossed the country twice by hopping trains and once by hitch hiking.

He is now 60 years old and homeless. The thing that amazes me about John is that despite not having enough to have a home and other things we take for granted, John pays $20 a month to sponsors a 4 year old girl in the Philippians. He told me he just wants to make sure that everyone can get more of an education than he was able to get.  

Hanging out with Lars...

I left Seattle on Thursday morning. I didn't get too far though. I took a detour that ended me in Bremerton, WA. I went to the water and walked around the marina and wanted to go swimming (not in that water). I looked in the water and saw a bunch of Jellyfish. I would move there. Bremerton, however, was not my destination for the day. I drove south. I now find myself in Olympia,WA. I arrived at about 4PM and soon after found myself sitting in the mall watching the world series. It was, of course, raining and dark and I decided it would be best to get out of the rain. As I sat in a chair watching the game in a cable display or something along those lines, an old man sat in the chair next to me. I moved to the far side of my chair. I don't like people in my bubble.

I ignored him and went on enjoying what, at the time, was a close game. He started talking to me about sports and what not. It's what guys talk about in that situation. I don't know you; you don't know me and there's a baseball game on. That's completely normal.

After a while he asked where I lived. I told him I'm from MN and I'm spending a few months traveling hanging out with homeless people and writing about it. (I'm very open about what I do) So we started talking about homelessness and all that jazz. He told me about a bunch of guys he had let stay in his house for a few days. He has an extra bedroom that they've stayed in. He asked me if I wanted to stay there to get out of the rain. I'm not one to turn down a warm place to sleep so I went with him.

The first thing I saw when I walked into his house was a poster from BOP magazine of Ryan Sheckler from Life of Ryan. When I walked further into the house I noticed that there was not one picture of a girl on the walls. Instead they were littered with pictures cut out of magazines of boys. Jonas Brothers, on the wall; Prince William, a bunch of guys I've never heard of, and of course, Leo! That's right, Leonardo DiCaprio. And not Shutter Island awesome Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic Leo. I thought that was extremely strange. No. That's not the right choice of words... I thought it was F-ed up. We stopped by the grocery store on the way to his house so I made myself some of the food he got and sat on the other side of the room from him and watched his TV. At last I said I was tired and went to the extra bedroom and locked myself in.

I left as soon as I could get away. See it got weirder the next morning when he asked if I would pleasure him for $30. First of all, No. Second of all, $30? Really it's going to take a lot more than that for me to pleasure anyone who's over 55.

Oh his name isn't Lars.

To put it plainly, Olympia has been very interesting so far.

Keep reading, life's getting fun.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Seattle's State of Emergency

This is the Declaration of a State of Emergency written by the homeless of Seattle. I think it speaks for itself. It's very well written and to the point. Please give it your time.

Declaration of a State of Emergency in 2010
by and for Homeless People in Seattle & King County
Four years into Seattle/King County’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, our numbers are at an all time high.  Our shelters are overcrowded, noisy, at times infested with bed bugs, and often consist of little more than a mat on a floor.  We have no place to store our possessions, and so must carry them with us.  Pushed onto the street in the early morning hours, we are hidden from sight and forced to stay on the move. We are unwelcome in your public spaces, and are harassed by your police and private security when we stop to rest.
At least a third of us sleep outside, where we are subject to trespass and arrest.  Our belongings are routinely stolen and destroyed by government workers who are “just doing their jobs.” When we camp in cars, we are targeted for citations and our vehicles are towed and impounded.  When we come together to form safe, dignified communities, we are threatened with arrest and our supporters are bullied with threats and fines.
We die, on average, at 48 years of age.  Nine of us have died by suicide this year.
We are the working poor who have been set up to fail.  Our low wages, work insecurity, lack of healthcare, overcrowded and unaffordable housing, and unreliable transportation leave us vulnerable to economic disaster.
We are the expendable, the dehumanized, the written off, and the devalued.  We are the sick, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the addicted.  We are the too poor, too uneducated, too old, and too unemployable to matter. We are the human wreckage of a broken system that denies its responsibility and blames us for our existence. 
IT SHOULDN’T BE LIKE THIS.  Homeless people deserve and are entitled to the same protections as our housed brothers and sisters:  a right to health and housing, freedom from violence and stereotyping, the ability to keep our families and loved ones together, and the tools to move ahead and thrive.
In 2010, worse will come.  King County, at the close of this year, reduced human services funding by 46%. Youth shelter funding was eliminated.  Food banks funding was slashed to zero at a time of record demand. The state budget crisis promises disaster. General Assistance for the Unemployable, the State Housing Trust Fund, drug treatment funding, and Basic Health Care are all to be eliminated. 
OUR STATE OF EMERGENCY MUST BE RECOGNIZED.  The Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is a fraud. The true causes of homelessness – rent increases, gentrification, evictions, and the failure of the market to provide affordable housing – aren’t dealt with, measured, or touched.  For every unit of affordable housing produced under the plan, three to four have been lost to market forces.
Top leadership of the Plan has tokenized the participation of homeless people, and has fallen deaf to our pleas for safety, shelter, and community. The percentage of homeless people who are sheltered should be a plan benchmark. 
We can no longer wait for the expanded survival services we need today while our “leaders” promise housing in the future.
1.      EXPAND SURVIVAL SERVICES.   Since the Ten Year Plan began, homelessness has grown while emergency shelter supply has held steady and funding for day centers has declined.  Stop pretending and meet the need with clean, simple decent shelter.
2.      SUPPORT SELF-HELP HOMELESS GROUPS (like SHARE).  When we run our own shelters, we cost-effectively offer maximum dignity and community to residentsStable city funding will help us built community-wide solutions to meet the growing need.
3.      PROVIDE A PERMANENT SITE FOR NICKELSVILLE.  We need a site big enough for a non-moving eco village of up to 1,000.  There are over seventy sites in Seattle that will work and only one is needed.
4.      COMPLETE THE HOMELESS REMEMBRANCE PROJECT to honor people who have died while homeless.  The Tree of Life in Victor Steinbrueck Park and Leaves of Remembrance in sidewalks throughout the County will serve as reminders to us all that homeless lives have value.
5.      STOP THE CRIMINALIZATION.  Citations for trespass violations, panhandling, and sitting on sidewalks clog our courts and punish the poor with fines and jail time while denying us due process under law.
6.      EXPAND TREATMENT.  Drug and alcohol treatment services save lives and money.  Punitive policies undermine public health goals and deepen the misery and isolation that often underlies addiction.
7.      PROVIDE TRANSPORTATION.  As downtown gentrification has pushed more services outside the free ride zone, access to bus transportation has become a barrier to overcoming homelessness. Homeless people should receive free bus passes.
8.      SUPPORT AFFORDABLE HOUSING.  Strategies to cost-effectively increase supply must be prioritized over big-ticket infrastructure projects and sports arenas.  Encourage market solutions that don’t let excellent get in the way of good.  We need housing.  Now.
Listen to homeless people!  We call on our new leaders to govern with progressive values:  compassion, justice and common sense.  We call on our fellow citizens to act in solidarity with homeless people.  We call on voters to insist that human needs come before floating bridges, sport stadiums and arts.
This Declaration was written by people from, and is supported by the SHARE, WHEEL, Nickelsville and Real Change Communities.
REAL CHANGE is Seattle’s 15-year-old Street Newspaper and a cross-class Organizing Project to unite people in working for social justice.
WHEEL (Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League) is an organizing effort of homeless and formerly homeless women.
SHARE (Seattle Housing and Resource Effort) is an organization of homeless and formerly homeless men and women working together to survive and solve homelessness.
NICKELSVILLE is presently a small organized encampment seeking to become an eco-village of up to 1,000 homeless men, women and families located on a permanent site with services.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

People Who Find You

Sitting in the Seattle Public Library, filling time with documentaries, and pondering the last week of my life. 

On, I think, Saturday, October 23rd the people in this picture came across me. I sat down in a park for a few minutes and they came walking up to me almost right away. They first asked if I'd like a turkey sandwich or something to drink. I took a sandwich. They stayed and talked to me for a few minutes. They didn't want anything from me. They didn't want me to come to a church. They wanted to make sure I was okay. When I told them I was traveling, they asked about where I was staying and if there was anything I needed. They asked if they could say a prayer with and for me and if there was anything I wanted them to specifically pray about. Prayers definitely can't hurt and I asked them to pray for my safety. They did, and went on their way. I watched them for a while as they at least tried to talk to each person in that park. Whatever your beliefs are, it is very impressive that someone would do that for people they don't know.

One of the things I vividly remember about the words they said in the prayer was that people would see me and they would want to be around me and know my needs.

On Sunday, I met a group of people who took me in, fed me and gave me a warm place to stay. They gave me a place to shower, wash my clothes and asked me to come back if I needed or wanted. Talking to them, I found that they have given people a place to stay other times too.

It's people like these that make me know that there's hope in the world. I have spent a lot of time hoping that there were people like this in the world. It's great to find that there are.

I recently checked to see how many people are reading the things I write. I was amazed to see that this blog has been looked at more than 2,500 times in 14 different countries. The number of hits have been increasing steadily with every month. This is so awesome to me. I've done a lot myself to spread the word and find people to read what I write and experience. I do know that the people reading this have been spreading the word possibly more than I do myself, and for that I thank you all. Please keep telling your family, friends, and the people you work with.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Seattle, WA

Out of all the places I've been so far, Seattle seems to be the most homeless friendly. Besides the fact that the  winters aren't nearly as cold as Mankato, Rapid City, or Salt Lake, there's shelters obviously, but there are designated parks where people are allowed to sleep.

There is a person under this mass of wool and backpack.
I had to find a place to park my car where I wouldn't have to worry about parking tickets, towing, or theft. I found a quiet community just over a mile from the area I spend my days. There's no parking time limit and nights are quiet. On the way from my car I found a spot where there's some camping going on. Being so close to I-5 it's not really a legal place to camp out and there are some signs on the trees, but it seems that the police usually look the other way.

Yesterday there were two other tents like this one. It appears that this one has been there for some time now.

Last night I ate dinner at the Bread of Life Mission. The dinner consisted of Squash, cooked spinach, pork, rice, and as many day-old pastries as you can eat. There's a few others in the area and I plan to stop by them all before I leave.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's the World we can change

Since I’ve been on the road there have been just a few times that I thought, “What am I doing?” and that I should quit and either go back home or move to Arizona and be done with everything.

I felt that way yesterday. I was going about my usual day. I just got to Seattle and so I was walking around getting a feel for the city and something just wasn’t right. I was feeling like butter over too much bread. I occasionally feel like everything I’m doing is a waste; that this is a horrible world and nobody can change it. I fight a losing battle to hold on to a world where people can change and make themselves better. I feel sometimes like that’s the world we lost.

I was further disappointed when I found out that I couldn’t get into a concert that I was really excited for. So there I was, standing outside the Showbox at the Market looking at a sign that said, “Never Shout Never, The Maine, I Can Make A Mess Like Nobody’s Business, Carter Husley SOLD OUT” Now, nothing against Never Shout Never, The Maine and Carter Husley, but I don’t care if I don’t get to see them play, but it was heart breaking and a let down that I didn’t need to realize that I wasn’t going to see I Can Make A Mess.

Ace Enders is the brains behind I Can Make A Mess, and one of the biggest inspirations in my life. I talked to him shortly after I realized that I wasn’t getting in. Like always he dropped what he was doing to talk to me. He’s one of those rock stars that really care deeply about the people who paid to get him where he is. He wasn’t able to get me into the concert, but said he would ask the other bands if they had any openings on their guest list for me.

I ended up finding someone with an extra ticket and did get in. Ace played a great set. All but two songs were unreleased. The set ended with the song “Old Man………………….” a song about holding on to and fighting to make your dreams come to life, and that the people who let go of their dreams are the ones who will tell you that you can't do what it is you want. Hearing that song and what he said to me before and  what he said during the song renewed my drive to do what I know I love and chase my dreams down, punch them in the face for trying to get away and make them happen.

Thank you Ace Enders for being who you are and for the inspiration and drive you give me to keep plugging away.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Salt Lake City, Utah and Me

I practically fell down a mountain into the Salt Lake Valley with feelings of excitement and worry. I was excited to be in a new place with a new adventure. I was also excited to see some of my family and a couple of friends that I hadn't seen in a while; one of them had been out of my presence for over five years. However, I was worried that being so close to so many people that I hadn't seen in so long would distract me from the reason I was there. How can I get a feeling for homelessness if I have places to stay all the time? Arriving on a Friday afternoon, I decided to just scrap the first weekend and do some visiting; I would get started on Monday.

That weekend, I rode a long board down Provo Canyon, I hiked up a mountain, saw a lot of family and a few friends, and enjoyed my life.

Monday came and I headed into Salt Lake City. I had been there before, so I felt more comfortable than other places, but I hadn't really spent anytime exploring the city the way I like to. So that's what I did. Like always, first things first. Where are the parks and more importantly where is the Library? Salt Lake has a lot of interesting and beautiful buildings, and their Library is no different. I'm guessing, considering it says at the front door, "the Library of 2006", that it was built in 2006. It's new and really an amazing building. I thoroughly enjoyed using it as a sort of office while I was in the city.

I spent so much time wandering around the city and taking in it's history that sometimes I forgot what I was doing. I was able to keep myself on track. There's a lot of ways for the 13,000 homeless people in Salt Lake to live. Some things are the same as other cities, and some are different. There are a few different shelters where people can stay and eat. During the colder months, they need to leave the shelter by 7:15 AM and can come back by 3PM for women and children and 4:30PM the the men. Then there are the people who, for differing reasons, don't stay in the shelters. Some of them have cars that they sleep in, some are left on the streets hiding from the police (for "safety" reasons they are not allowed to sleep out on the streets), some do stay with friends or family, and some go up into the surrounding canyons and camp.

I've heard a few stories and reasons people have decided to stay "unsheltered" at night. Some people just want to be able to sleep next to their husband or wife, the shelters keep men and women in separate areas for obvious reasons. It would be nice if they had an area for married couples to sleep. One man that I talked to got the blood of a drug addict sprayed on him one night. He was laying in bed and the guy in the bed next to him went to "shoot up" and blood sprayed all over. So he left right then and never went back.

I slept in my car as often as I could. I decided that I could handle being one of the homeless people that stayed with friends and family for my time here as long as I kept my mind on what I was doing.

There's a few parks in Salt Lake that are definate hang outs for the homeless. Pioneer Park is just a few blocks from the shelters. It's a nice shaded (not shady) park just outside of downtown SLC. It's nice for a midday nap under a tree.

The block that the City and County Building sits on is another place much like Pioneer Park. It has beautiful, very shaded grounds. There's benches to lay on and everything. Incidentally, I don't like sleeping on park benches. It's not that they're uncomfortable, quite the contrary. My problem is that if there are people walking by, even when I'm asleep I'm still aware of all the people. It's not very resting. This guy didn't seem to have any problems.

Liberty Park is a huge park in Salt Lake, but it's not very close to anything. There are a few homeless people that spend time there, and the fact that the park has a Wi-Fi signal doesn't hurt either. Yes, I talked about the internet and using computers. If you don't think homeless people can have a laptop then go to the backside of the Salt Lake Library before it opens. You will see.

And so, even though, I spent much of my time in Salt Lake City sleeping on couches and being taken out to eat, I had time to learn what life is like on the streets of SLC.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Salt Lake Street News

Today, I ran into a man named Steve. While talking to him, he told me that he was homeless and selling newspapers for a non-profit organization called Salt Lake Street News. Steve first came to me to ask if I wanted to buy one of the newspapers. After I asked what it was, he told me it was a newspaper to raise awareness about the homeless (exactly what I'm doing) and to bring some kind of income to homeless and low-income people. It deals with the issues in Salt Lake and Nationally.

While I was paying for my copy I told him what I am doing and that the information in and about the newspaper would be really helpful. After I told him what I was doing we had a conversation about all the things we see from day to day and how life is on the street. Through selling the paper and working for one of the temp. agencies in the city, Steve has earned enough money to get himself a car to sleep in; an old Bronco.

After a bad experience at a homeless shelter (let's just say he got a drug addict's blood on him), Steve left the shelter and was forced to sleep out on the streets, continually hiding from the police. So, he's very glad for the blessing of his Bronco.

He's always applying for jobs, but there's just not enough jobs for all the people looking for them. He doesn't let that get him down though, and keeps plugging away, hoping that soon he'll be able to earn enough money to get a place to live. It's people like him that are the reason I'm doing what I am.

I asked if I could watch him for a little while and take a few pictures. This is what happened.

Steve was outside the famed Temple Square. On occasion people who have far to much time on their hands hand out Anti-Mormon fliers and such things. My best guess is that this guy thought that's what he was doing at first.

Steve told the man what it really is he's selling and what it's for. They talked about thirty seconds about it.

In the end this man realized that it was a good cause and decided to buy a copy of the newspaper.

So in the end, people have a positive reaction to the Salt Lake Street News. I applaud it for the help that it is, both to the community and to the people who are working hard to better their lives. So to those of you who live in Salt Lake City, if a vendor like Steve approaches you, I ask you to buy a paper. They're working hard to better themselves. The little help you give them will work towards "Real Change, not Spare Change".-Salt Lake Street News

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Parks and Recreation

There are a few places that are sure to be populated with the less fortunate.

Like many other cities its size, Salt Lake City has a light rail train running through it. This train runs through the downtown section of the city as well as to a few neighboring cities. The great thing about this is that as long as you stay in downtown Salt Lake it's absolutely free to ride. This makes it very easy to get around and if you happen to be very low on money, you can get around too. In fact, today I watched someone ask people if they had any spare change while riding the train. Any free form of transportation will be taken advantage of by the less fortunate.

For some of the same reasons that libraries are popular, parks are also. You can go there and stay all day for free and nobody cares. Parks are fun. there's very few things better than napping in the shade of a tree on a nice summer day. No amount of wealth takes that joy away. of course there are a few things that make a library a much better place to spend a day. There's the pursuit of knowledge, winter, and rainy days like today. These are times that it's better to stay indoors.

Lately, seeing as I'm in an area where I know a few people, I've been asked a lot what I do to pass time. There are a few things that I do everyday. Some of them I did before I was homeless too. Like most other homeless people, I have a few things from my life before the streets. Many of the homeless have a computer and there isn't a library in the country that doesn't have free wireless internet. I use this to do things I enjoy such as USAToday's puzzles, I write a lot, and keep up with a few TV shows that I like. I take a lot of pictures, it's something I've loved to do for years, and the amount of traveling I've been fortunate enough to do has made that more exciting than ever. I enjoy meeting new people and learning about their lives, and the people I'm meeting are more than happy to share everything with me. It was my fear upon leaving everything I knew before that I would be bored, but in reality, I've got plenty to do.

Homeless people have things they enjoy, hobbies, habits and vanities just like everyone else. They have dignity. They have feelings. They have families and friends. If we would look a little closer we'd all see them for what they really are and not for what they don't have.