Morning Watch 6/21
I feel like one more post before I'm out of touch with the uncivilized world for 3 weeks.
Let me tell you the story of a kind, old Seattle-ite who spent his prime in the service of our city as a manual laborer. Now, due to a minor but influential mental instability he is without work, barely affording to keep his apartment with the social security check he receives on the first of each month; not even enough left over to feed himself.
I noticed the gaunt figure, so skinny it made him look taller than he actually was, as we prepared to leave Westlake Center after having no luck getting anyone to come to breakfast at the Mission. I didn't figure that he would be interested in a ride, he had a far away look in his eye as he searched the public waste bins for something to eat. I mainly wanted to say hi so that he knew that someone was thinking about him but I was pleasantly surprised when he said he would like to come with us for breakfast. We climbed into the van and headed to the Mission making small talk along the way.
He said he has been trying to find work for a long time now. He would like to drive a dozer but it sounded like he was giving that ambition up for dish washing. Considering the snap judgement I made about his mental health I think dish washing would be a better, safer career path...not that he would intentionally do anything damaging, but he may not have the focus to operate heavy machinery safely.
He told us that he hadn't been to eat at UGM in 4 years. When asked why, his response voiced concerns that I've heard a few times lately: he wasn't comfortable with the crowd at the mission. He said it was a more dangerous atmosphere and he tried to stay away from that as best he could.
For your edification, the Mission is run very well and has no tolerance for drugs and violence inside their building. That said, they do seem understaffed and underfunded so they can't catch everything or properly treat every ailment that comes through their doors. Furthermore, the Mission does a great job at keeping their doors open to anybody with needs they can address, so long as the rules are observed.
This brings me to the Catch 22 of welcoming the homeless. Put as simply as I can, most homeless people are that way for a reason. For many, that reason is substance abuse. Being involved in the drug trade gets people carried into a culture of violence and other unpleasant actions and behavior. Therefore, reaching out to homeless people requires that one welcome people who are less than savory. Okay, so I lied, I could probably make this simpler but I like complete logical sequences. Now, remember how I mentioned that "most" homeless people fall into this category. Yeah, all the homeless folks who are not involved with drugs, or in that scene through some other route, - be they simply laid off and out of work or severely mentally disabled, for example - don't want, and work very hard to steer clear of any environment in which a person could get caught up in the destructive world encompassing drugs and their use.
So how can you possibly welcome both groups at the same time? Creating two separate facilities would discriminate against the group who is "kept away" from the other group and have a strongly negative impact on their moral. So the easiest thing to do is to open your doors for all...unfortunately that ostracizes the people trying to keep their nose clean and makes it harder for them to get the help they need.
Okay a bit of my brain just leaked out of my right ear, I think I'll stop this nonsense...for now.
After dropping off our first charge of the day we headed to Pike Place Market where we picked up a couple from New Hampshire. They have been in Seattle for 4 days and came all the way over here to go the the "Rainbow Gathering". As the gentleman in the back of our van put it, "basically just a bunch of hippies." He had had his shoes stolen in the night and was walking around bare foot so we brought him back to the mission, got him some Toms (apparently a very humanitarian minded shoe company) and a bit of breakfast.
It had been a little over half an hour since we dropped off our first haggard passenger so we were amused, and perhaps a bit discouraged, when we saw him poking in another trash can as we drove back past Westlake Center. The guy must not be in that bad of shape because, if you're aware of Seattle geography at all, it's not a short or easy walk from 2nd and Washington all the way back up to Westlake Center...though I suppose he could have taken a bus.
After driving through Bell Town without running into anybody in need of our services we headed down to the waterfront to close out the morning. I had to say hi and explain my impending absence (3 week vacation, if you don't happen to know me...I pretty much assume everybody reading this does though) to the woodcarvers down there and we made our rounds at the other end of the Park as well. One man we spoke with was very grateful for the help he didn't accept. He told us he was in a bad spot after losing his house because he and his wife were poisoned by the well water and had to move, he lost his job and is now on social security but had already spent everything he'd gotten this month.
Then we said hi to our friend with lupus and I gave him a business card for where I work doing autoimmune research. I told him that if he's interested, he could help us out by donating blood to be used in lupus research and he sounded eager to help. I'll be a bit surprised if he actually gets up here to do it but only time will tell.
It was a good day and, while I'm going to have a great vacation, I will definitely be missing driving around with Tim and seeing all the people I know on the streets of Seattle...and my friends and family too, of course ;)