Street Soccer Seattle

NWH is working on our networking skills. Today, after an hour of distributing hospitality cards and kits in Seattle, Anton met (and played soccer) with some of the folks over at Street Soccer Seattle. They meet at University Presbyterian with a mission to bring people living on the street into their program to help them learn life skills and offer a healthy, fun activity.

Soccer meshes teamwork, individual effort, and many other invaluable virtues that make it a great tool for improvements in many different aspects of life. Street Soccer Seattle has brought its team around the country for tournaments and always represents Seattle well.

We met after their practice about where the strategies of our two organizations might overlap and how we can help each other. For now they are helping to distribute a few kits and I've included cards about their community in the kits that will be handed out around the University District. I'm looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together.

OSL

I had a great meeting with some folks at OSL (Only Serving Love) today. We are working through the final details on how they can be a financial sponsor for my new non-profit, Puget Sound Hospitality. I'm really looking forward to working with the folks at OSL, they're really doing a lot of great work.
After the meeting I had the opportunity to help serve lunch at their outdoor meal site under the freeway. There were a lot of volunteers so I cleaned up the eating area which gave me the chance to talk to people about the kits we'll be putting together. I didn't learn a whole lot... It's fairly intuitive, but there does appear to be a genuine interest and need.
We didn't hand out any of my kits at lunch because I only had about 12 and there was at least 100 folks being served. On my way back to the ferry though, I was able to hand out 4 kits which were graciously received...often with a bit of a confused look as they tried to figure out what the heck I was giving them. I did get one "I only need a couple bucks and I'll have enough for some beers" so I really like having this cash-alternate option.
Now I'm in the process of website and kit development. I've got to develop contents for feminine hygiene, youth, and pet specific kits. If you have and ideas I'd love to hear them, just comment or email me. Once OSL helps me get set up I can do some fundraising, build some kits, and look into an order of subway cards for the kits and then that phase of the project can take off. I'm really excited about that aspect, I hope it goes as well as it's going in my head...
The website, still very much in development, can be found at www.sites.google.com/site/pugetsoundhospitality
Or use bit.ly/PSHospitality
Might be a bit before there's much to see there but I always appreciate feedback.
...suppose I should do some homework.

New Project!

Wow has it been a long time! I have a new project I've been working on lately that fits this blog like a glove so let's bring it back :)

Back in 2012 I had an idea that I posted on Starbuck's idea page called Share Mug. Basically I wanted to give people gift cards that would be useful so stick the bar code on a re-usable mug and give it out that way. The idea didn't get any votes so I tried to repurpose it into something that would still work. I contacted some folks at several banks and card companies to try to devise something I called the Samaritan Card. The idea here is to have cards, as opposed to cash, to hand out to people that are asking for help. The cards could be one-use or reloadable, linked to an account that you manage online...I even toyed with some ideas of having scannable barcodes or QR codes on the cards so that other people could donate to that card with their phones. Unfortunately this died a quick death when it came time to actually execute any aspects of it because none of the card companies could figure out a way to make it work.

I can't get this desire out of my head. It would be such a useful tool in the fight against hunger, making it easier for people to be generous and removing a few of the barriers some people experience when thinking about giving that handout...not all of the barriers but it eliminates a few such as wondering if the cash will be used to purchase drugs, alcohol, or smokes. To this end, I wanted to have these cards accepted at restricted locations where such purchases would be at least minimized (this was before the laws changed, back when liquor couldn't be purchased at the grocery store or gas station). But the idea didn't go anywhere so it's apparently been percolating in my subconscious and recently returned with a vengeance .

For the past few months I've been working on putting together Homeless Hospitality Kits.


Through bulk orders at Fred Meyer I've got the cost down below $5 per kit which is typically less than I'd probably want to give someone begging on the street. Pack this all in the Ziplock baggie and you can toss them willy nilly whenever you see someone that is asking for a little help. 

I am currently "in talks" with a non-profit, OSL, to see if I can create an account under their 501(c)(3) for me to fund raise into and fund the purchase of these kits from there. If it doesn't work out with OSL then I'll keep looking...I could start my own non-profit but I am of the opinion that there are too many out there and it's better for everybody if we can simplify that front a little. If it all goes as I have it worked out in my mind this will be a rare 100% charity, 0% overhead, which means all of the donations go directly to helping people.

I am also still researching, with recurring frustration, other solutions for a reloadable card, similar to my original Samaritan Card idea, to be included in the kits. If I can create enough funding for that account then I could hand out hundreds of these cards and people could have reliable money for food on at least a weekly basis (frequency and amount of reloads would be completely reliant on how much money got put in that non-profit account). Right now it looks like Subway cards are the only feasible option. For some reason none of the more generic reloadable cards offer the same flexibility, account management, and freedom to donate the cards. The positive to this is that it really does eliminate that pervasive concern that funds will be misattributed to nefarious purposes. The, in my opinion larger, negative to this is that Subway only offers delicious sandwiches. The money on the cards would not be able to be used toward health items, foods that aren't at Subway like fruits, veggies, and canned goods, or clothing items.

One item on the immediate to-do list is to compile a Feminine Hygiene Accessory Kit that can accompany the Homeless Hospitality Kit when appropriate. If you have any suggestions for items that should or should not be included in this, including brands and other ways to make it generically as useful as possible please comment on this post or email me with your ideas since I'm a little clueless there ;)

Eventually I may begin to sell these kits at cost so that I can increase the reach of the program. So far I've given a few kits to folks to hand out but until today I had not even given one out myself! I am a bit more removed than I used to be from the homeless issue since we moved to Port Orchard but I hope to head to Seattle to cycle through some of these in a somewhat regular fashion. Today my Botany class met on the grounds of the Tacoma Community College nature area and discussed a lot about collecting plants for the course and other aspects of the class. We were standing on the trail and just a few feet into the bushes was a pile of blankets and personal effects, a little homeless habitat. After the class was over I placed one of the kits into the little camp. There was nobody there but hopefully whoever is reduced to sleeping in those conditions will enjoy the surprise when they return to their spot. Who knows, that could be a student on campus with nowhere else to stay...or it could be a despicable cretin who is a bane on society...there's no way for me to know but that shouldn't stop a little generosity. 

A bit of a rambly post today but it's been so long that I've got to get back into the stride here. 

Breakfast with an Old Friend

I've been feeling guilty lately for neglecting a promise I made to one of my friends, Jared. When I was living in Lake Forest Park and taking the bus to work each morning, I would often find him across the street from where I got off the bus. A good relationship developed over time and I'd get him breakfast and chat pretty often. He has an apartment in Seattle but no job. He's also got schizophrenia which likely explains the lack of employment even though he's a great guy. With a close family member also affected by schizophrenia I feel extra close to Jared's struggle. It takes so little to end up in a situation over which we have no control, especially with a condition like that. This could easily be my own family or myself asking for handouts on a street corner to make a living.

When I was seeing him a few times a week I had said that I would take him to the library and help him get set up so he could learn some computer skills. It never happened and now that I rarely see him I have been thinking about it a lot. So I took a detour on the way to work from the ferry docks this morning and walked past his corner, he wasn't there but half a block away I was very happy to run into him. We talked quite a bit, got some breakfast and talked some more. He is such a great guy it is depressing to think of him in his position. After he got his breakfast we sat down and he asked a blessing over his food and extended his prayer quite a bit with thoughts for me and my family. Unfortunately, I don't think I will have much to do with getting him to the library the way things are working out beyond encouraging him to get it done. In an attempt to not lose touch again I asked him if he had a cell phone. He used to have one but lost it. My mind was put a little at ease when he gave me his address so we could keep in touch via snail mail. Hopefully after a while of sending letters (I'll have to remember how to write those things...) and harping on him to get to the library he'll get set up and start emailing. Who knows, maybe he could pull off an online job and earn himself a more satisfying living. When I met him today he told me that he had just finished after making $30 and not wanting to be "greedy" by begging more than he needs...

Kind of a short post but maybe it'll get me writing more frequently again.

Clever Seattle Artist, Shanti

It's been far too long since I posted anything in my little blog here and with Lent upon us once again I have been motivated to revisit the project.

A couple weeks ago a man came up to me as I was walking to the bus and asked if I had a car nearby so he could wash my windows for some grocery money. Well, I didn't think the bus driver would accept his offer but it had been a while since I had helped anyone so I offered to get him dinner. He had already ate but now I was committed to help so I upped the ante and said we should go get him some groceries. An hour and a little bit too much $ later I was helping him carry too many bags back to the bus. I helped him load them on but didn't accompany him further so I hope he managed to get it all home okay...he got a little carried away, and so did I, because it was his wife's birthday the next day so he wanted to get her cake and ice cream in addition to all the other stuff he needed.

He was a very talkative guy and told me all kinds of things as we perused the isles. He admitted being a hopeless drug addict and a bit of a con artist but insisted that he wasn't taking me for a ride. I told him I didn't care if he was, everybody's gotta eat. He told me would pray for me for a month because I helped him out so much and I told him I'd reciprocate though I think I've dropped the ball a little bit on my half of the bargain. He also told me he was a paranoid schizophrenic...he had to explain this because he kept pointing out this guy who he insisted was following us around the store. It was a bit comical (he thought so too) but the feeling he had was quite genuine.

Anyway, all that was just supposed to be a side story leading in to why I hadn't sought out any more meals since the beginning of Lent...my budget can only handle so much...but today my attention was attracted by a street artist on my way to the bus. Once I started talking with him about his art he seemed almost a street performer as well, he had a very smooth way about him...even with the slightly crazy, political personality.

Ultimately I bought a $7 sticker of his artwork (but I only had $6.25 on me...I felt bad ripping him off but he insisted it was okay)

 
 

H2O/Fire by Shanti (Seattle, WA - duplication of original water color)

When I asked him if I could post a copy of his image in my blog he said okay, so long as I mentioned this:

    H20/Fire, two great things. Without which you couldn't have "coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or my favorite, soup."

I couldn't quite quote the whole thing verbatim but I got the important part right.

He was a great guy, I hope I'll see him around again, if for no other reason than to give him the $.75 I owe him...

Some of his art was extremely thoughtful and he had great explanations for the symbolism. I'm not really much of an art fan, I picked this one because I liked the colors I guess but he has a great way of putting very poignant messages into his artwork that, unfortunately like much in the art world, may need a little explanation to the simple minded like me but is still brilliantly done.

Anyway, if you're ever walking through Seattle and spot an older middle age African American, surrounded with art and missing his front teeth (and if you have a few minutes to spare) stop by and take a look and a listen to what he's got for sale, it's well worth the time.

Hopefully I'll get back into the swing of this blog again here...if people are interested still (???) and share some more good stories.

This just in...

Bit of a hiatus lately due to a class I started taking but there's still been some activity on the Just One Meal front. I haven't been down to help with Morning Watch for quite some time now and probably won't until after my class is over since I've got to be out of work and onto my class by 4pm so I can't show up later to work as easily.

But anyway, I was prompted to write today's blog because I caught sight of a friend of mine on King 5 news last night during a segment where they were covering a new program for drug addicts where, when caught, they are given a choice between jail and rehab instead of just being tossed in the slammer like nobody cares. My friend who is a great guy and has had a tough go of things, was picked up, it seems, for possession of a small amount of crack cocaine and decided to take advantage of the rehab option. I'm really praying hard that this works for him, gets him clean and off the streets but I'm very worried that the program won't be comprehensive enough for my friend because he's definitely got some cognitive challenges beyond being addicted to cocaine. It's strange but I really didn't think he was into drugs until last night. He's a super nice guy, loves to talk (in fact if you aren't careful lots of time can disappear in between "Hi" and "Bye"), and has a very faithful outlook on life. If you're talking with him, it's likely that your talking about God and how wonderful He is. Either that or you are talking about lotion because this friend of mine also happens to have lupus (now Tim knows who I'm talking about if he reads this one) which is an autoimmune disease that effects, among other things, a person's skin, making it very hard to care for. Because of his condition  he needs to use a lot of lotion and has to bathe every day which isn't easy on the streets. So he was forced to use the fountains down in Waterfront Park...not the cleanest solution but they served their purpose well enough for him and he was very grateful to have them. Hopefully he'll have a better option in rehab and after.

I'll tell you about my Just One Meal connections sometime later, I've got to get ready for work. I just wanted to get this out of my head since it's involving my friend (send some prayers his way if you feel so inclined) and this new program in Seattle. Hopefully it's a very successful program and lots of people choose life over incarceration.

Something a little different

Over the past few posts I've noticed a diminishing number of readers. I take this as an indication that there's been too much of the same thing and people are getting bored and maybe a little depressed by my posts. Therefore for this post I'm going to try to spark some discussion with one of my harebrained ideas. Hopefully this accomplishes a few things: it's an idea to provide for our homeless neighbors so hopefully it'll be less depressing, maybe even hope inducing; I expect people to get involved in the comments section, tell me why my idea won't work, what parts might work by themselves, what could be added to the idea to make it better, even just tell me just how much of a waste of time this crazy talk is; and finally I just needed to diversify my posts a little to break up the monotony for you guys so hopefully it works.

The Question:
Why don't we engineer an entire city designed to help people get out of poverty and back on their feet?

Pros: Central entity to provide support for all homeless individuals; Homeless would get warmth, food and community; Assistance, therapy and counselling could be focused; Homeless people and their often associated drugs would be out of the main cities making them cleaner and safer places for our non-homeless neighbors (also a con, see below); the overflow areas would be extra valuable in the event of a natural disaster where housing has to be found for vast numbers of people quickly.

Cons: Homeless people would be out of the main cities making it easier for main city residents to forget about them, "out of sight out of mind" would be a big hindrance to getting the country to provide adequate care and funding to the Homeless City (Or "Gateway City" as I thought I'd like to call it, as in a Gateway off the Streets...in a side note I also thought this name might help convince Bill Gates to invest ;) ); I'm not sure how exactly this would effect the national drug trade but centralizing those individuals that are involved in the use of drugs could initially have very negative effects by making it easier for suppliers to find their buyers...however, over time if the system worked then it would be effectively reducing the number of users by giving them a system through which to kick the habit without judgement and at their own pace. Even if they relapsed they would know that all they have to do is show back up to one of the Gateway Cities to find their way back out of the rut. So...kind of a pro-con on that one but I'll put it down here in the cons because that's the way I think most people will view it.

The Design:
It would have to be a tiered system, allowing anyone and everyone the freedom to come and go at will, safely and un-judged from the lowest tier as well as providing protection to those individuals who manage to shed some of their baggage and succeed in moving up tiers (ie. recovery from drug addiction, getting a job but still not able to make house payments or keep up with rent while building savings and re-establishing healthy credit).
The city could be engineered so that, just by existing, it is giving back to the surrounding communities by making it state-of-the-art in green tech, efficient and solar power.

The city would be designed entirely of dwellings eliminating the need for large roads and vehicles inside the city (most homeless don't have and can't afford vehicles anyway). It would need an effective commuting system for inner-city travel and connecting to excellent commuter options for getting to the neighboring cities where the ex-homeless would be holding most of their jobs (some jobs would still be sustained inside the city, ideally by lower tiered individuals as a starting point for developing the work skills and honing their communication and social skills with their coworkers before being expected to interact in a common work place. Jobs like these would be mostly custodial and maintenance related within the city)

For a real leap of faith, the city could be organized, for all but the highest tiers just about to leave, as a mini socialist community where everything done within and without is for the benefit of the city as a whole (As a point of reference it's important to note that this is how many, if not most, tent cities are currently being run)  This would help build the community involvement, encourage working together and give people a support system larger than themselves and their counselor to rely on. Coupled with the higher tiers' focus on getting jobs, learning how to save money and establishing savings and good credit on the individual level this setup would give everybody the chance to take advantage of community assistance until they had things figured out enough that they could get out on their own. All income from the lower tiers therefore would be put into a central fund that would be used to maintain the city, pay the limited staff and employees of the city and, if anything is left over, contribute to improving the neighboring cities as well. This would make it easy for people to make donations to their homeless neighbors because they could just write a donation to the city and it would benefit thousands.
I don't think I would try this system with any more than 50,000 individuals in one particular city since these social societies historically only work with smaller populations. Using homeless population estimations from the internet I figure that 5 or 6 of these facilities around the country would cater to about 10% of our homeless brothers and sisters. Hoping that the system would be effective in funneling people out of poverty and back into healthy living, eventually this would be enough to service everybody's needs. A central part of this system would be getting people to the city in the first place. For this I see taxi services run by the Gateway Cities and called by people who would like to become residents. I also see potential collaborations with airlines or bus and train companies to help facilitate the movement of this very vulnerable population.

Here's a 1st draft for the design of the community built around a 5 tiered system moving people closer and closer to independence and self sustainability at each tier. (I imagine, with the buildings having several stories, the building area taking up about the space of half of CenturyLink (Qwest) Field because 60ish thousand fit in just the seats there...the garden areas could take up as much or little space was available but ideally enough to provide for at least the community itself)

The 1st tier is completely open providing anybody the freedom to sleep in a warm, dry location. One of the things I hear a lot in my travels around Seattle is that people have been "Kicked out" of particular places for bad behavior. The first tier would have a large capacity area for sleeping on mats when there are no rooms available, another similar area for people who are disciplined for bad behavior and need to be separated from one group but still need and deserve a warm place to lay their head (maybe a couple different of these areas would be needed) and another area for couples that are experiencing drug related problems. Children could be taken care of in a facility inside the administration building where the families would be able to spend time with them but they would be kept safe from the drug infused environment.

The 2nd tier would comprise a secure area where people's movements may be restricted because these people would be undergoing voluntary treatment to quit their abusive habits. This would be a high turnover tier and so would probably not need to have as great a capacity so it could be kept in the upper stories of the admin building where the patients would be closest to the help they need.

Tiers 3-5 would be for people reaching increasing levels of independence. Anybody would be welcome to enter directly to tier 3 so long as they were not bringing drug related problems into that area of the community. The living quarters would improve from tier to tier just enough to make it an added incentive to improve your situation but not so much that the tier 5 dwellings are a place one would want to live out your days in...the goal of the whole system is for people to eventually move on (though it is designed with the willing acceptance that some will choose to stay put and that choice would be respected).

Gardens in the community would provide produce for the residents as well as, hopefully, enough for some of the higher tiered individuals to be able to take some of it into the neighboring cities to sell at farmers markets and grocery stores. Fields above and hydroponic gardens below ground with artificial light sources or light tubes would be a good way to maximize the useful area.

In the ultimate optimistic gesture I envision the whole community being designed in very flexible buildings such that, as the homeless population diminishes, the residences on the outside of the community (in the non-drug side only) could be retrofitted easily into either nicer apartments that could be rented/purchased or retail store locations that could be sold or leased out to companies and businesses or residents of the community could start their own businesses in.

To be completely clear, I have no dilutions that a system like this would ever actually come to fruition (not that I don't think it would be very successful in its goal but there is just no way it would ever get great enough support or funding from our non-homeless neighbors) BUT I do believe that we can learn a lot about what we could do with the systems we have in place and those that we plan on devising by thinking about our ideal systems and this is simply my version of that. Especially because of that fact I welcome your comments to help me learn what I can :)

Morning Watch and a Meal

After a communication snafu that left me catching up with Tim and the Morning Watch van half an hour late this morning he had already picked up the lady we usually check in on at Westlake Center and we got her to the shelter for breakfast before heading off again.

I can't remember if I've mentioned this is an earlier blog but this lady has a severe addiction to something and has her good days and her bad days. On one of her better days she was telling me how she wanted to write a story about her life and how she was frustrated by the lack of resources to do so. I've been thinking about what it would take for her to get access to the technology to write her book and I realized that people used to write books before computers existed...I know, and I don't even have a degree in history or anything! It probably won't amount to anything but I think I'll bring her a notebook one of these days so she can start writing. I'll get one of those fancy looking ones that look like they're bound in leather or something so that maybe she feels different about it, or treats it better than her other possessions...and maybe that'll help get her focused on writing her life story like she wants to. Then, if she gets started, I'll be able to help her transcribe it electronically if she wants. I am doubtful that she'll be able to focus on it over her addiction well enough to make any headway but who knows, maybe all she needs is the means to do it and a little encouragement.

We didn't see anybody else until we got down to the waterfront where we met a man who just moved here from Boston a little over a week ago. He wasn't homeless in Boston most frequently, had been before though, but for whatever reason he chose to come here and start over. We found him wrapped in blankets on the stairs of Waterfront Park by the fountain. After we got him into the van he said that he'd been praying for help just before we got there, it's nice to think that we could be the hands and feet of God for some of these people who need help. We introduced him to the welcome center staff at UGM and he went in for breakfast. Hopefully they'll set him up with a bed and give him the help he needs to get off the street quick.

While driving back up under the viaduct we saw another friend of ours that we've brought coffee to on several occasions. He's severely disabled, both overweight (3-400+?) and missing a leg from poorly controlled diabetes and past drug use. He now gets around in a wheelchair and sleeps on the concrete. We got him some coffee and talked with his friend. They are heading down to Portland so that he can get some other care. I'm not sure what he can get down there that he can't get here...not sure they are sure either, sometimes it seems easier to grasp at straws than it is to accept reality and find a way to cope with it...though that is a harsh judgement of this situation because I really have very little information.
We helped the friend jump his van because the battery was completely dead and then we went on our way.

We saw a few more folks down at the waterfront but they just took some coffee, told us we should bring sack lunches with us and kept on sleeping for the most part. And that was the morning.

I headed down with a coworker to get lunch near the convention center today. I went to Subway and saw my old friend Marc begging outside the Cheesecake Factory again...he's there quite often. I had them double my order and brought him a sandwich. He's a bit of a talker and I didn't want to keep my coworker (who went to a different sandwich place) waiting so I just said hi, told him I couldn't chat and gave him his sandwich. He was very grateful and remembered the cake I had bought him. He felt bad he couldn't remember my name so we got re-introduced. He looked a little depressed when I told him it was a turkey sandwich, but if he doesn't want it I'm positive he'll find someone who'll eat it...I just didn't want to buy him another giant piece of cake! (which likely would have happened if I'd gone and asked him what he wanted because I can only put my foot down so hard).

Surprise opportunity

Usually I seek out my beneficiaries during lunch time or on my way home but today I was surprised by an opportunity to help a young man with lots of needs. Sammy flagged me down on my way to REI to prepare for a hike this weekend. When he asked for help I almost got to ask him if I could buy him food before he asked me if I could buy him some sandwiches from the little grocery store behind him for himself and his family. Of course I obliged and followed him in. We filled a basket with things for his family, including his mom, brother and his brother's kids and then got some change so they could do laundry.

Sammy told me that he will be turning 18 on the 3rd, the same day he'll be able to get his food stamps. He actually offered to pay me back in food stamps. He was an interesting person to talk with; he had no problem taking advantage of the help I was offering as it quickly got pretty expensive, but he was also very thankful and kind of still awkwardly embarrassed about the whole situation...that is to say that he wasn't the same kind of embarrassed that I've seen from other folks, but can't really explain the difference. He was also a bit frustrated with people in general as he'd apparently asked a lot of people for help before I happened along. I got a hint of a mental sickness but it could also have been simply a lack of education or just frantic communication skills but he definitely cared deeply for his family and is willing to do what he needs for them.

The thought did cross my mind that the whole thing could be a ruse, if it was then it was a successful one as he got quite a lot of food out of the deal, but talking with him and listening to him tell me about his family and their need for diapers, food and general hygiene products and the fact that he mostly just wanted food helped me feel that he was being genuine. If I think about it now, even if it were a 50:50 likelihood or even greater that I was being put on by a twisted punk, I would still help every time I could because the benefit gained by the person or family in need is far more valuable to me than the money potentially lost on a loser after some petty cash. As it is, I'm pretty confident that Sammy is an honest young man who I'll be praying for to find a way out of his predicament into a comfortable life for him and his family.

Morning Watch 7/20 and 7/21/11

7/20/11
After my excellent vacation it's time to get back into the swing of things. Tim is out of town for a few days so I'm filling in today and tomorrow as best I can solo. It was a pretty slow morning really. I did manage to give one man a ride to breakfast from Waterfront Park but nobody else needed anything today.

It's definitely a different feeling out there without anybody else to work with. It's more lonely during the driving so I find myself looking forward to the brief interactions I have with the people on the street a little bit more. And it's admittedly a bit scarier approaching strangers by yourself because, lets face it, they aren't all going to be exactly civil. But I recommit to every individual, reminding myself that they don't deserve to be on the street any more than anybody else I will see today and then still more often than not I find that they're genuinely quite pleasant.


Most of the regulars weren't there today. A lot can happen in three weeks so maybe they've found a new place to sleep, but I'll hope that they miraculously found a way off the streets until the next time I see them ;)
The Totem Pole for John T. Williams is looking incredible. They've started to paint sections of it since I left and it's beautiful. The Williams family, while they can never be consoled after the tragedy, will at least be able to be proud of the beauty that is being added to Seattle because of their brother's memorial.


7/21/11
Another slow morning, missing most of the regulars and driving around in search of people in need. A couple of the regulars may have moved to another location because the spot they were storing all their stuff during the day is now a construction site. They had a lot of stuff too so they probably had to figure out another arrangement.

No rides today, but I did have a long talk with a young man named James on the waterfront. He is a driven guy who's been through programs to get clean and had a job until a couple weeks ago when he got arrested for a week. Without a way to contact his employer he lost his job and is now, as I see it, at that breaking point where something is going to go his way and he'll work himself out of this spot or, if nothing works out for him soon he may get stuck on the streets without a way out. He seemed a well educated fellow and told me that his trade is concrete. Ultimately he'd like to have his own concrete company, pouring foundations and piles. Right now he is struggling to make the step from homeless, without a job to non-homeless with a job and asked me if I knew of any programs that helped with that step when there are no other barriers in the way like mental illness or addiction. Unfortunately I am not aware of anything really but hopefully he gets in touch with the UGM welcome center for more ideas.

It really does seem like there's a lack of continuity in the programs out there for homeless people. There are programs for folks that need food and shelter, not enough but they are there. There are some for people who need mental care and addiction therapy. What James needs is a program to help him get through some court issues, network to find a job and get an affordable place to live.

I had a passing idea for a program I'd call "One at a Time" or something. The program would be an organization of volunteers with resources to support them going to the streets to find a homeless person that has a desire to be off the streets. They would stay focused on that one person giving them whatever help they need until their goals were met if it took a month or 3 years, then going out and finding someone else.

In a more positive and completely unrelated note, I saw Nate Jaqua this morning walking past Waterfront Park. I said "Good Morning" with an undoubtedly goofy starstruck grin on my face. He responded in kind and I kept walking with a smile on my face, proud that I didn't ambush him for an autograph or something completely stupid like that :P Go Sounders

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 ;)

Morning Watch 6/14/11

Seems like I've had a lot of posts lately but it's been a busy time down at the shelter. This morning was the first day we were joined by a new volunteer who has actually been in the UGM Men's Shelter recovery program for the past 11 months and is now tasked with filling some of his time with work, part of which he's fulfilling by joining the Morning Watch van. It was lots of fun to watch him interact with the homeless people we met today because he was so excited to be out there trying to help and was in-tune with their situations in a way that Tim and I, hopefully, will never be able to understand.

Our first stop was back at Westlake Center visiting the lady we see most mornings. She wasn't doing as well today and we never managed to get her up. Part of the problem may have been the method by which her rest was initially disturbed. Just before we reached her, as we were parking the van, I watched a police officer, Officer J. Dotson, approach where she was sleeping, and abruptly remove a piece of cardboard she had on its side shielding her from wind and perhaps a little noise. He grabbed one of her bags and tossed it aside and finally reached down, grabbed her sleeping bag and pulled it down and off her. A complete and absolute disregard for her well-being and lack of any compassion what-so-ever. I don't care what experience you have on the street, I'm sure he sees and deals with homeless people all the time, it makes me sick to think that someone that I trust by default to serve justice in my city, someone that I pay with my tax dollars and someone that should be a role model for the citizens of the city, would treat another person, especially someone so vulnerable, in such a manner. Some kind of sick, disturbing power trip...and from what I've heard this is more than likely the rule, not the exception.
When we finally got to her and introduced ourselves to the officer he smiled without a care or concern in the world, like what he was doing to this poor lady was completely normal and shouldn't cause the kind of shame I expected to see in his eyes when he looked up. Our new volunteer offered his hand and introduced himself and the officer rejected the handshake! He said, "no, I'm okay" and proceeded to ignore our new Men's shelter volunteer. I didn't offer him a handshake after seeing this, though now I wish I had because I'm curious if he'd have accepted it after shunning the man standing next to me.
He left and that frustration was at least passed, if not quite over. After all that we managed to wrangle 3 new folks to take them to breakfast. One of them was in a wheel chair. She could walk but had something wrong with one of her legs so it was with a distinct limp. Fortunately wheel chairs fold up so we were able to fit everybody and their things into the van.
As we prepared to leave a kid approached the van and asked about what we were doing. He said he was starving but couldn't join us because he was with friends and they all had bicycles. We told him how to get to the mission and when breakfast was served and hopefully they made it, though we didn't see them down there after leaving Westlake Center.

Next we took our new volunteer down to the waterfront to see the totem pole and meet our friends there. I told one of the carvers about a laundry service in Belltown because he was asking about options yesterday but he had already figured something out...there is a surprising lack of coin laundromats near the waterfront. We were only there briefly before receiving a call up to the Town Center to pick up the same two older folks we've met there a few times before and from there I just walked to work as it was almost 9am already.

I've been looking for more blogs like mine so that I can read up on what other people are doing and I've found several awesome sites. One in particular is invisiblepeople.tv  This is a great website/feed that interviews homeless individuals on camera and asks them about their stories, how they got where they are, what they are doing to get off the street and the hardest question: "if you had three wishes, what would they be?" There are some very powerful videos up there and I recommend watching a few of them when you get the chance. I may blog about some of them in the future but I'll give some of you a chance to catch up first ...my posts are getting longer and more frequent, I've got to watch that I don't lose anybody because I get too laborious to read.

Peace, and God Bless

Morning Watch 6/13/11

This morning Tim and I met a man from Sudan. He has been in Tacoma for 11 years staying with family but has been mostly homeless for the past 3 years due to a drinking problem. He reminded me very much of the man we picked up last week that was found shivering in just an old sleeping bag and his jeans and t-shirt. He had the same forlorn, depressed expression that was bordering on tears because he couldn't get out of his drunken rut. Nothing to do but bring him to breakfast and help  him sign up for a bed for the night.
Then we headed to Weslake Center again and met up with the lady we see there most days. This was a somewhat good day for her in that she was in a decent mood but she was complaining about being sick because she injected "something" that wasn't hers. She told us she had a large, painful swelling on her shoulder and wanted to go to the hospital but she didn't want us to take her. We had almost convinced her to come to breakfast with us but then a couple of her friends showed up and distracted her. I hate to judge based on appearance, they could have been good friends of hers, but it seems likely that they were actually her suppliers and before we had finished cleaning the cardboard and trash from her sleeping area Tim and I were pretty sure they'd sold her something. But she ultimately left with another friend of hers that came by and offered to take her for coffee...she was a popular lady this morning, which was pretty cool to see (so long as I assume the first couple were just good friends...)
During our conversation she also mentioned that she wants to write a book. She told us the name of a chapter that she'd just thought up, "Concrete Pillow" and I asked her if she'd started writing it yet. She hasn't and I wanted to ask her if she'd thought about formatting her book as a blog instead since that would be easier for her to manage in her position...I'll ask her next time she's feeling well I think because we got interrupted by all her friends.
Next we drove up to the Stewart street off-ramp, by the Orien Center which ministers to youth, and walked around there for a bit. There were a few young people sleeping under the shelter of an overpass next to El Corazon but they didn't need anything but the coffee we offered. Rounding the corner we saw a young lady that Tim recognized and we talked to her for a bit, giving her information on how to get in to use the emergency room and other clinics that might be able to help her with a problem that she didn't explain to us. Then we told her about a couple of the programs for women in the city, like Mary's Place, and went on our way as she didn't need anything else.
Finally, as usual, we ended our morning at the waterfront. I bought a t-shirt from the John T. Williams memorial (I'd been promising to for a long time but never have any cash...) and we picked up one more gentleman we hadn't met before and took him to breakfast. All-in-all a pretty successful day.
On my walk back up the hill I saw and said hi to Larry for the third time now. He was the man that we tried to take down out of Seattle a ways so he could catch a ride out of Seattle. He was glad to see me again and almost actually remembered me this time without a reminder.

After a frustratingly long time on the phone with Barnes and Noble I headed home in a bit of a mood. I ran down to the bus stop only to see the 522 leaving as I turned the corner and was frustrated because I was in a hurry to get home to meet my Dad. As I awaited the next bus, a tall man, probably about my age, came up to me and explained that he needed $5 to stay at the Men's shelter downtown for the night because they start charging for beds after the second night. I wasn't in a good mood and am ashamed to say I was a bit accusatory when I said that that wasn't true at all...which it isn't for the UGM Men's shelter. Unfortunately he was talking about the Bread of Life shelter so I felt like a jerk. I asked him why he didn't stay at UGM and he told me he would never go there again because people tried to steal his stuff last time and he'd heard rumors about bed bugs...which I don't think is true.... Then I asked him what we could change there to make it better and he said they should be more selective about who they let stay there, "just a little bit more" he said. I thanked him for the info and told him I didn't have money to help him with, forgetting that I had some cash left over from the weekend in my pocket. Remembering this a few minutes later I caught up with him down the block after he'd finished asking some other folks for help and gave him a little cash to help him get a room at his shelter. He told me that he was trying to get back into college, filling out his fafsa and all that because he's had no luck getting work without a degree, and that he had been trying really hard to get things figured out and get off the street. He is very faithful and is eager to follow the will of God, even if it means that he doesn't get off the streets...though he hopes it will. I told him a bit about the program at UGM and encouraged him to give them another chance, talk to the welcome center and see if they can help him out. He sounded like he might be interested in that. I just hope he's able to fulfill his dream, ever so simple, of just getting back into college so he can turn his life around.

Morning Watch

6/8/11
Tim and I started this morning at the waterfront to take one of our good friends to the Compass Center where he can take a shower, shave and do laundry. After dropping him off we headed to Belltown where we met Will. Will was shaking violently from the cold during the night, had dried blood from his nose on his upper lip and told us of a severe drinking problem. Last night, while he was drunk, it seems he either misplaced, or had stolen, most of his warm clothes, so all he had overnight was a single old sleeping bag a dirty t-shirt and jeans. Tim mentioned that he was pretty sure the only reason we got him to come into the van to go to breakfast at the shelter was the fact that he was freezing his butt off. He was very grateful for the help and it was sad and a bit emotional for me to leave him, even at the shelter, because I know that he will probably be back on the street tonight in a situation that barely differs from last night. His alcoholic condition makes it next to impossible for him to improve his own circumstances.
Anyway, I was depressed after leaving Will at the shelter and the rest of the morning went by slower than usual because of it. Our next stop was in a seedy part of town where we bring one gentleman coffee and often succeed in bringing another couple of guys back to the mission. This morning we weren't so lucky...
Our two friends were in their usual spot but they appeared hung over and barely stirred when we greeted them. For the first time we saw two young ladies with them, one of them had to be younger than 20, also in the same unpleasant state a person experiences after a night of too much something. On our way back to the van this brought out Tim's rage against drugs and I realized that I was also angry with the guys we usually meet there too. We have started building a relationship but I clearly had unreasonable expectations of, if not their personality, at least their decision making capabilities. It's really terrible that they are homeless but it's far more terrible that they are exposed to these drugs that keep them acting so irresponsibly...and that they would allow two girls to be a part of it makes it much, much worse and definitely crosses several more serious lines.
It's going to be hard to focus on simply helping them and not judging after this but any preaching would fall on deaf ears and only damage what little relationship we are developing. Living as an example is the most powerful way, I think, at least for now, to reach out in this instance.
The rest of the day was more or less uneventful and we finished the day bringing another friend from the waterfront, some lotion because he has Lupus and ran out of his stock.

6/9/11
This morning my path missed Tim's just a bit so I didn't catch up with the van until 7:30am. Then I got to meet another new volunteer, Damien! Nice, tall, young guy. It's going to be fun working with him.
We delivered some coffee first thing and checked in on the guys that were hung over with the young ladies yesterday. They didn't look in much better shape today so we left them to their rest.
When we woke up our next young man he wasn't interested in any help...but we kind of jarred him from his sleep so after a few minutes he caught up with us and asked what we could do. We ended up dropping him off at New Horizon's Ministries, a UGM-type facility that serves kids under 18.
Finally we found ourselves on the waterfront again to end our morning. Tim and I talked with the wood carvers a bit and then did our rounds of Waterfront Park because I had seen someone on a bench as we drove past. Rounding the corner we were in for quite a surprise as we ran into what can only be called a gaggle of kids and their dogs from around the country. I believe there were 6 kids and 4 dogs. It was getting on to 9am when the last breakfast service is at the mission so Damien and I decided to walk back to work while Tim took the packed van back to the mission to get them to breakfast on time. It was comical to watch the van drive off riding low with the weight of happy passengers who had their own surprise in the form of a warm building, friendly faces and some breakfast. They mentioned before we got them all loaded up that this was the first time they'd encountered a program that came to give them rides to where they wanted to be. And like I said, they were literally from all over the county; they listed California, Florida, a couple others I didn't catch and...Tacoma.

I'll be riding out with Tim again tomorrow so maybe I'll have a couple more stories to share by the end of the day. (oh yeah, the van has a sharps container now too, yay!)

Since I'm new at this I might as well ask while it's not too embarrassing...does anybody have any preference for the format of my posts in this blog? ie. should I have one shorter post per day of activity or should I group a few days together like this for ~1 longer post per week?

Sometimes we fail to help

Today after work I was on my way down to catch the bus and a tall homeless man stopped me kindly to ask for some help. He explained that his camp had been robbed and he'd had his sleeping bag stolen so he needed some money to get a new one. As usual I didn't have any cash to give the man so I apologized and asked if I could buy him dinner someplace instead. He wasn't interested in dinner and fixated on cash for the sleeping bag asking me if I could find a cash machine somewhere to get him some money. So many feuding desires and thoughts. I had no reason to doubt the man; he did not seem to be under the influence of anything - and I'm getting better at telling on a whim but I'm sure I'm not as good at it as I think I am. Still, having worked through the whole cash issue in my head, and in my blog, to a certain degree before this interaction, helped me decide quickly and rather comfortably, however still not happily, that I would not give the man money...especially not in the amounts necessary to help him purchase a sleeping bag. So I opted to give him some alternatives instead of getting him money.

I asked him if he knew about the Union Gospel Mission Men's Shelter and told him that they would be able to help him for the night and get him some warm things. Unfortunately, and I've run into this quite often throughout the city, he has been barred from not only UGM but from all the homeless shelters in the city. I'm still not quite sure how the system works but certain actions can get one barred for life while others warrant a stern warning that can lead to barring if it's not heeded. In any case, the shelters were not an option to him - this still troubles me but there's nothing I can do about it now so it is a problem for another day.
Next I made sure that he knew about the Search and Rescue vans that the UGM shelter sends out, though I imagine he is more knowledgeable about them than I am, because the volunteers in those vans will help anyone with a need without regard to where you've been barred. From these vans I told him he could obtain blankets enough to keep him warm. When he said he already had some blankets but they weren't warm enough I just maintained that he could get more if he needed them. Finally he thanked me and walked off. I said I was sorry I couldn't help more and headed for my bus.

In the end I can't help feeling a little suspicious that he wouldn't accept any of the help I offered, but was entirely focused on what he wanted, cash. But as I think about it more, it's probably just an instance where I really didn't offer him anything at all...except dinner. Frankly, he probably knew about all the programs I mentioned and I was basically wasting his time, and him mine. Some people don't want the help we can give and that's just the way it is. All that's left for these folks is prayer, then we have to move on because there will always be more people that are eager to accept whatever meager assistance were're capable of providing...or willing to provide.

Late night posts are always the best, I hope there's a sentence or two in there that makes sense. :)

Good Luck Street Soccer Seattle

Sorry for the double post, but I just got back from kicking the ball around for an hour with the Street Soccer Seattle team. They are headed to DC this Wednesday to dominate the Street Soccer USA Cup! It's been great to see the excitement and teamwork build over the past month or so that I've known of their existence and I'm sure they're going to do great.

As this was a pickup game today there were several people who aren't on the actual team playing and one of the players got punched in the stomach as retaliation for a little too much crowding. It was over in an instant and the kid who threw the punch was down doing his foul push-ups almost before I realized what was going on which made me wish there was a little more made out of the incident. Obviously the kid knew there would be repercussions but either he wasn't able to control himself or, in a split second, he decided that the repercussions were worth it and that's an unfortunate attitude to let pass without more than push-ups. He did actually leave after a few minutes but I think that was of his own volition, without any involvement from the coaches aside from talking with him about it and talking to the guy who got punched and waving it off as somebody who "has a lot of stuff going on right now." I would have liked to have seen some resolution between the two involved like an apology and a hand shake before telling the guy that he was done playing, but just for today. But, what do I know, I don't know what kind of training the coaches have but if they are trained in conflict resolution then my opinion of whatever training they received is, obviously by now, pretty low (the training only, of course, the coaches themselves are great guys out there selflessly serving their community in a very clever fashion).

Anyway, apart from that outburst, the rest of the evening's play was quite enjoyable. Everybody was in high spirits and getting very excited about their trip. I wish them the best of luck and look forward to hearing how well they did at their next pickup game in 2 weeks.

That's all for now, maybe I'll be back tomorrow with tales from my lunch at the totem pole...

Morning Watch Craziness

It's been a couple of busy mornings in downtown Seattle. Yesterday Tim and I spent the first half of our morning helping one of our friends get ready to go to the shelter for breakfast. She has a lot of odds and ends to her name and they took a while to wrangle. Among the belongings, unfortunately, were several hypodermic needles, at least one of which had some substance inside it still. It was not surprising to see this, especially knowing this lady a bit, but it was the first time I'd seen it. I was mostly shocked at the number of uncapped needles she had around her. I don't understand how she can sleep there without rolling over and getting poked, but I guess in whatever state she was in when she went to bed, cleaning up wasn't a priority.
Regardless, she was in a good, active mood - definitely not always the case - and wanted to go to breakfast at the shelter so we spent an hour helping her clean her area and pick up her things. The need for a sharps container in the van became immediately apparent and that's something that will hopefully be taken care of soon as we can't dispose of needles in the trash without imposing significant risk on those people who have to deal with said trash later. The rest of the morning was less eventful though we did meet another couple that we took to breakfast.

Today was crazy. We ended up taking one couple and two other people to breakfast, dropping off almost 10 cups of coffee and taking someone that needed medical attention from the shelter to Harborview. We've been introducing ourselves to police officers along our way so that they know about our program and can offer it as an option for the homeless people they wake up every morning.
During one of our stops at the shelter this morning we saw Larry again; the gentleman that we tried to drop off at a truck stop south of Seattle last week. Unfortunately it looks like he didn't find the ride he was looking for :( but he was still grateful for our attempt.

One young man we picked up today from under the viaduct was a little eccentric. He has been on the streets for the past four months, hitchhiking from the east coast. He walked barefoot, carrying his shoes in his hand. He told us that he had to make some shoes out of cardboard yesterday so that he could use the library because they wouldn't let him in without shoes, but today he had real shoes that he apparently just didn't feel like wearing. While we drove him to the shelter he said something that offered a different perspective. He said that because of the massive waste produced by the US in general, he felt there was a "dignity" to surviving off of that trash. In a way I can see his point: far from creating more waste, you're actually reducing it by the smallest margins, but I told him that I was satisfied by minimizing the waste that I produce and he didn't seem to judge me too harshly.

We ended the morning as we do most mornings, at the waterfront with David, Huey and the totem pole that's being carved in the memory of John Williams. Tomorrow (6/3) I hope to take some friends of mine from work down to the waterfront for lunch and to check out the totem pole. We'll probably be down there at around 1pm if anybody'd like to join us. It is quite a thing to see the totem pole in progress. They are putting it up at the Science Center sometime in August, but now's your only chance to see it unpainted and only partially finished. I highly recommend you check it out if you have the chance, it's always there on the dock just south of the Aquarium in Waterfront Park.

More Fun with Marc

I knew I recognized him but didn't remember our previous encounter until we had gotten into the Cheesecake Factory. Marc is as boisterous, good humored and thankful as I remember from when we walked to the McDonald's together last month.
When I asked him if I could buy him dinner this evening he immediately suggested McDonald's again, he evidently likes that place so much I don't know why he doesn't stay closer to one! Since he was standing outside the Cheesecake Factory I suggested that we could just go there and he quickly affirmed that as a good suggestion. We went in and the wait staff was polite and respectful, if initially a little hesitant. Unfortunately Marc insisted that all he wanted was a slice of Reese's Peanut Butter Cheesecake and a coffee. All I accomplished by trying to convince him to get something for dinner was to end up getting him two slices of cake instead of just one. He was extremely excited and kept telling me just how much he loves cake, which kept a smile on my face.
Just like last time, he kept asking if I had any cash or change but all I had were a couple of old bus tickets which he happily accepted. I almost want to say that he seems greedy for anything anybody will give him, it's a strange and inappropriate association, and I can't quite explain how I mean it, but that's just the feeling I got talking with him.
It was fun to see Marc again, he remembered our trip to McDonald's and was grateful for the help, almost to excess. I will look forward to running into him again...though I'm not sure how much good it does him to get a couple slices of cake for dinner, but you can't argue with the happiness factor ;)

In other news, I spent last night at a fundraiser for Street Soccer Seattle. They use "Soccer for Social Change" and seem to have a lot of fun with it. Roger Levesque, Lamar Neagle and Brian Meredith were there signing autographs, they had indoor games going all evening, other small soccer related games, a raffle and a silent auction, in which I scored a signed pic of Mr. Steve Zakuani himself!
It was a great evening and I hope it was a success as they are trying to send their Seattle team to DC for the championships this year. Street Soccer Seattle has a team of homeless youth that plays soccer in a league with other homeless teams, as well as pickup games within their communities. It's a great way to build confidence, trust and teamwork in many young folks who've likely never experienced these most basic parts of the human existence. From what I can see, they love every minute of the soccer and the attention.
I've only made it out to one of the pickup games prior to this fundraiser but I'm really looking forward to many more. Check out their website: http://streetsoccerseattle.org/ and send 'em a donation if you have the means because its a great organization. Even though it, admittedly, isn't a stand alone solution to homelessness, it's certainly a clever treatment of some of the tragic effects homelessness can have on these young people.

I'll leave updates about Morning Watch until next time. If you're enjoying my blog, please feel free to follow it and share it with friends. Thanks for reading!

Morning Watch

It's been a while since I've had the opportunity to buy anybody lunch but I've learned more about Seattle's homeless in the last few weeks than you would think possible.

I've gone out with the Union Gospel Mission's Morning Watch van once or twice a week for the past month and I've had a great time doing it. It's amazing the personalities that I meet out there on the streets and its surprising how many names and stories I'm remembering. I'm terrible at remembering names usually but the circumstances in which I've met these people have me thinking about them constantly for hours or days afterward so they stick in my mind like glue.

In my posts about Morning Watch I'll share some of their stories and some of my experiences but I'll keep their names out of it to preserve what little privacy their circumstances allow. Sometimes I'll run off on some personal opinions apparently...as this post seems to have turned into so I hope you enjoy! :)

"Homeless people" is about as bad a generalization as any other standard you can think of, based on race, other prosperity levels, gender, etc. There is too vast a range of personalities and backgrounds in that broad category and I believe that this generalization, as usual, helps the public (non-homeless people) to walk by their homeless neighbors time after time, day after day without seeing the depths of the plight these neighbors are in. This, however, is a rather blatant generalization itself...awfully hard to avoid that.
There are several gentlemen I've met on the streets so far that seem to be perfectly content right where they are. Certainly not a majority, but they are there. I don't know if they like the lifestyle, the sort of pseudo-freedom (from my perspective. From their perspective my freedoms could easily be seen as very demanding and restrictive: job, house payments, taking care of my house, etc.) or why they seem so comfortable but that may just be how it is for them personally.
From where I sit, I think that these folks are probably not quite all there mentally and could actually really benefit from some serious help but there enters a catch 22. I don't think most would accept the help if offered. They are happy to receive the coffee we bring them in the morning especially with the included relationships that we build up over time but if offered anything further they happily refuse, and to impose any sort of additional help that they didn't accept would effectively be removing that last vestige of perceived freedom that they currently experience. In the long run this may be a good thing for them and for society but I can't think of anyone I would trust to make that decision for the friends I've made in Seattle so far.

From the, still generalized, "contented" we can make a hop, skip and a jump over to the other side of the spectrum where we find a decidedly more populated group of homeless individuals that abhor their lives, how they live, what they do and everything else. More often than not, these people have been just as hospitable to me on the streets as the contented group and over a longer period of time (I'm still very new to this scene) maybe the people at both ends of the spectrum can bounce around significantly, switching sides for a month or a year before switching again. It wouldn't surprise me.

For both groups and the majority in between, I think it is our best choice, I may even consider it a duty, to simply make ourselves available to people who may need assistance. We need to do this humbly and patiently so that its obvious that we welcome opportunities to help. In this way when there is a need, someone will be there to fill it. This approach addresses problems directly, creates a trusted community and respects individual liberties...even those liberties that many may consider to be crazy like choosing to live in the streets - not that it is always a choice, only potentially - or the choice not to accept deeply needed help.

To wrap up my rambling - this post did not go quite where I expected - I would like to point out that, while it is a very kind act and should not be ceased, giving money to a homeless person one passes on the sidewalk does not satisfy the duty that I feel people should be called to regarding their homeless neighbors. At least not if that is all that is ever done. If you are honest with yourself when you pass someone starving on the street, whatever you are doing or going to do is very unlikely to be more important than a simple meal to that person who hasn't eaten all day. But the meal itself pales in comparison to what could be accomplished by making yourself available, by stopping and asking what that homeless person needs instead of just moving for the quick $5. Often it won't actually take all that much more of your time or money, while sometimes it will. Either way, more often than not it'll be more valuable for both parties if there is an actual connection made. Simple eye contact, an introduction?, hand shake?, communication: "can I buy you lunch?". These interactions satisfy a different, more important hunger than can't be matched by the fanciest restaurant in the world.