Features Apr 24, 2013 at 4:00 am

The Overnight Shift at a Homeless Shelter

Stranger archive MIKE FORCE


A very touching and human piece. It's sometimes shocking to me how inured Seattleites are to the homeless people sleeping on our streets.

Thanks for this, Rebecca Brown.
Thank you Rebecca and all other volunteers, humanists and even the folks who just simply donate the money. Peanut Butter & Jelly and a warm bed never sounded so wonderful before.
This made me cry.

Timely, too, right after I just got home from QFC, where the checker was laughing about the "weird lady" outside the store. I said, "I think she's homeless" ("you idiot," I should have added.
Once upon a time I spent a few year feeding the homeless. There really are some gems among them, people who have a lot of knowledge and understanding, people who were or could be successful that took a wrong turn, not always on their own accord.

There are also people who will pull a knife on you if you run out of salt.

I learned much about humanity from our most unfortunate citizens.

When I switched from working as a volunteer to a more official social service capacity I saw a whole different very nasty side of many of the same people who had previously been friendly. I honestly felt like I had been deceived.

These days I at least acknowledge the homeless with a "NO" when I am asked for something, but that is about it.
I get a new toothbrush and some toothpaste every time I go to my dentist. I don't use them (I hate spearmint, my toothbrush is electric) and have been collecting them for ten years. Now I know what to do with my collection: it's going to a homeless shelter.
It may seem easy for you (or your "boss") to separate yourself from some of the people depicted in this piece. The very uncomfortable reality is you are not so far away from these fellow human brothers and sisters.

If you're unlucky and get really sick or injured, or if your entire career prospects evaporate as a casualty of cheaper labor offshore, or if there is a seismic shift in the economy, or if your "job" disappears entirely, you could be HOMELESS.

YOU could lose your job because of the biggest economic clusterfuck since the Great Depression––courtesy, in no small part, to the finance industry and their complicit asswipes in Congress and the Whitehouse––leaving you with no means (and no prospect) of financial survival.

You could be momentarily insulated IF you have a strong social support network (family and friends of monetary means) around you, and if that network is able and willing to rally around you. If not, you are ever closer to being HOMELESS.

If you are, by sad chance, and like many of your fellow citizens, beset by health (physical or mental) issues that preclude you from earning enough to keep you in a private domicile, you too may find yourself clinging to the tenuous thread of our shredded, collective "social safety net."

But surely at least, one can and must eat.

America is the most productive food provider on the planet, in all of recorded history...

Too bad.

We collectively waste 40% of our food. And about half of the food we don't waste is squandered by turning otherwise good nutritious commodities into pure over-processed shit like McDonald's fish sandwiches or "Lunchables". Way too much of our food is turned into preprocessed garbage.

Meanwhile, kids (and grown-ups, too) go without decent food. Everyone pays the price (except the mass-agribiz conglomerates) when there is more reliance on "convenience" foods from just five main wholesale "manufacturers."

And people, who otherwise would still have great capacity to contribute to society, are left to rot like the refuse in the dumpsters behind those reeking icons of "fast" food. America's consumer-driven sickness has the foul stench of modern consumer-slavery.

How's THAT for a "value" menu, America?

M-m-m-m-m, good.
@5 "I don't use them (I hate spearmint ... and have been collecting them for ten years...my collection: it's going to a homeless shelter."

You're going to donate some ten-year-old toothpaste to "a homeless shelter"?

What a fucking saint.
Thank you for such a positive article. Sad to claim that's it's getting to be pretty rare in The Stranger.
Dogs in the US receive better treatment than homeless people. The wealthiest nation in the world leaves the mentally ill, addicted, and underprivileged to the chance of whoever feels enough pity to randomly help them. We can send people to the moon, but we can't figure out how to run a civilized society that has compassion and programs for all.

A moving article, well done.
@5 your thinking is right on though I think I would toss the older toothpaste. I travel often. Everyday I pick up all the toiletries the hotel puts in the bathroom. I'm willing to check a bag on the way home (can't get all that liquid onto carry-on but that's a rant for another day) After a couple months I sort the items by type and donate them to a local women's shelter. It is an easy, cheap, and immediately useful donation.
A very moving piece. Thank you for your volunteer efforts. I'm sure it means so much to the people you are hosting.
" The very uncomfortable reality is you are not so far away from these fellow human brothers and sisters. "

Horseshit. A lifetime of poor choices and burning bridges are needed first.

"Homelessness will continue as long as "Sexual predators" must pay "A debt to society" for ever"

Have sympathy for your neighborhood rapist? No thanks.

How many hobos will Slog's compassion warriors take in tonight? Oh that's right, none.
"Homeless" is one of those pc euphemisms that needs to go away. A woman living in her car with her kids to escape an abusive man is homeless in that she wants AND deserves a home. A shit stained "sacred woodcarver" begging in Pioneer Square is not homeless in that he does not deserve a place to live. There is no right to housing for society's human garbage. That's what jails are for. Yes I know you've created that right in your mind so it must exist right? Is there also a right to the internet? Clothing? Television? Where do all these rights come from? If the silly gullible left knew how to separate the actually worthy from the euthanasia candidates like the aforementioned woodcarver they'd have the resources to help all those who deserve it. Instead they objectify them all as victims/tools in their fight against evil capitalism. Ooh so evil.
Under the Viaduct, where dirt is our floor. Under the Viaduct, who could ask for more?

Under the viaduct, we'll be drinking our booze, under the viaduct, our sores continue to ooze.

Under the viaduct, down by the bay, we'll be drinking our T-Bird, all through the day.
"Around 2,736 people were sleeping on the streets"

What's really shocking is there have to be at least 2,736 bleeding heart liberals in Seattle with couches. What gives?
Be careful how you judge #'s 14 & 15, you got it coming!! And #15, are you a cop?

Please more articles like this one!!

And this time, try the women's shelter! Most people who read the Stranger now are on hard times, and with the sequester coming (special thanks to you Obama supporters!!), coming alot more of us are going to have to get mentally prepared for life without a home.
Ho.Ly. Crap, some of you commenters are pretty vile. And delusional if you think this sort of thing couldn't happen to you.
I am always saddened by the distinction some people make between the deserving and the undeserving poor. Suffering is suffering, and it would behoove those who claim to follow Christ to remember that Jesus didn't make any such distinctions.
Helping nice people is easy. Helping rotten, angry, people who will do stupid self destructive shit over and over, is hard.
But it's the right thing to do.
"Helping nice people is easy. Helping rotten, angry, people who will do stupid self destructive shit over and over, is hard.
But it's the right thing to do"

Since when is enabling and rewarding bad choices a good thing? Sure, I have no problem with a cot and 3 squares a day but in exchange you work and follow the rules.

Can't do that?

Under the viaduct, down by the bay....
@21: If some one slips in the street and is at risk of being hit by a car, you pull them out of the way even if they fell because they were drunk, and even if they stink, and call you names for pulling them to safety.

Because it is the right thing to do.

Don't even bother argueing with ignorance like this. You people are pathetic and pitiful if you truely believe what you wrote.

People commenting that their is a distinction between people who deserve home and people who don't are so sheltered and cruel.

Imagine being born to anabusive parent that never taught you how to eat healthily and you never saw your parents not fight and imagine if you had no choice over being born into an already homeless family. Ok, then imagine if you aren't a white male as well? I'm guessing none of you are writers or artists judging by your lack of empathy and lack of the ability to use logic to put oneself into another's situation.

Don't be judgmental, because you have no idea what someone's gone through. And lastly, if someone has made bad choices, do you really believe they deserve to not have warm food or a place to sleep? Does that make you feel better about not doing smack to help them? Does someone who because of mental problems and hereditary issues, chosen alcoholism deserve to die young, and on the street? no, no, no.

This piece was well written and sucked me in within the first paragraph. It' beautifully shows and expresses the feeling of helping people that isn't nessicarily that "happy volunteering feeling." Especially since you are helping provide something most people see as just a right, something we take for granted. That's the most beautiful charity.

Don't even bother expecting me to read your reply if you are so cold hearted you have something negative to say about something you know nothing.
@22 right on. your wisdom is food for trolls though.
Thanks, Rebecca. Have you met a person named Adam John from Alaska? He isn't a drunkard. I have a very good collection from his carvings, and writings. I was touched by your sensitivity. I wonder if we could look into this.
Also, he sleeps sometimes at the men's shelter.
"Dogs in the US receive better treatment than homeless people."

Dogs get killed after a certain amount of time in the shelter. If you think that's "better", then perhaps you should hang that portrait of your grandpa Adolf back up on the wall.
@27:My husband's brother is a State trooper, and he seen people run over, and the driver never even slowed down, but if there's a dog on the free way there'll be more than one person out of their cars, risking their lives to catch it and get it to safety.

Often people feel more sympathy for, and outrage over, the plight of stray animals than they do for people, because they feel that the animals are innocent but people are to blame for their misfortune.

I'm pretty sure that's what @9 was getting at. Not calling for euthanizing the homeless.

But you knew that. I think you just didn't want to address the bulk of their comment which questioned how such a wealthy and technologically advance country as ours can fail so badly our most vulnerable citizens.
you suck at writing
What a great article. Thank you Rebecca. I'm glad there are people like you in the world who can still feel compassion and can still care.

It's clear that some of us have lost that capacity or perhaps never had it. That is sad.

It's true what #28 said. Often people seem to care more about the plight of animals than they do their fellow humans. Caring about animals is a good thing though. At least it's a start.
I've volunteered in homeless shelters before, particularly for the kinds of temporary shelters mentioned in this piece. Those shelters are already balls deep in hotel toiletries and small tubes of toothpaste. They have so much of it, they often give it away to their volunteers. If you want to help a shelter or the needy, donate MONEY. They don't need your castoffs.
"who can still feel compassion and can still care."

Got a couch at your place NWCitizen?
Keshmeshi's right. Cash donations really help.
@32: Do you?
@33. Yep, through my taxes.
@34: Too be clear, I was referring to your theoretical couch, in which case if you feel that your taxes fulfill that hypothetical obligation for yourself, why would you feel others should be held to a higher standard?

Unless what you're saying is you feel that as a civilized society it is our obligation to fund the care of our most vulnerable citizens though our taxes, in which case you would like to do your bit by lobbying for increased government spending to aid the homeless?

Is that it?
Why would I let a bum sleep on my couch? Friends and family, sure. Anytime.

Good to see not one of Slog's bleeding heart liberals takes hobos into their homes. They must have homelessphobia.
@ 31 and 33:

This is absolutely untrue of many shelters, tent cities, and individuals sleeping rough on our streets. I mean, yes, they need money. But they also do want and need our castoffs, and this is a much better use of them than throwing shit in the garbage. Just the action of becoming involved and making regular visits to shelters and tent cities is a step towards the kind of cultural awareness and compassion required to undo the structural inequalities that create widespread poverty and homelessness. Please don't discourage people from participating in this way.
@36: No baby, that would be you with the homelessphobia. Let's hope it never happens to you.
@37: I'm sorry I wasn't clear. I am on board with both cash donations and toiletries, socks, etc.
@39:Sargon, Harriet Tubman was a hero. Hardly anybody is a hero to the extent of some one like Harriet Tubman. If every one who came from the sort of back ground you and Michael @23 described was able to rise above it with out help, we wouldn't have the homeless problem that we do.
Many people do over come great hardship and their bad choices, but seldom on their own.

And that's not really the point. The point is that to help others, even those that never manage to profit from it, is the right thing to do. Not the easy thing to do, and often the frustrating to the point of heartbreak thing to do, but still, the right thing to do.
@4: People will show an ugly side when *you* are what stands between them and access to food and shelter, even if you're only trying to help them get to it.
I worked very hard for the same company for ten years until economics took that job. In this economy if you dont have enough experience you cannot get hired. If you have too much experience not even mcdonalds will hire you. So my house went into forclosure and i went from making a six figure salary to sleeping in the park or shelter with no more than a backpack. This could happen to anyone, so do not judge lest you be next. I am one of the lucky few- i met someone that was willing to take me in and help me get back on .my feet. It is even harder to find a job when you have no clean clothes to wear to an interview. Bad cycles are created here. And, yes, be smug and when YOU are begging for change on broadway i wont just avoid eye contact and step over you. I will wish you a good day and give you whatever i have to give. Because being a human does NOT mean being inhumane.
I was driven screaming outside for months running, asking all of the black people I saw to help me kill the nojaws insane.

You can get a job.

Please wait...

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