How can that be? Well, Weeks and Clark aren't really homeless. The pair has been feigning homelessness all week, to "learn a lesson and see the world with different eyes," explains Clark, a young guy with glasses and a blond mini-mohawk.
On Sunday, July 7, they took to Seattle's streets, bringing along a few "essential" items, like a black marker for making cardboard signs, and a towel. Oh, and a digital camera and audio recorder.
The digital equipment will help the pair document the week for their website, www.homelessweek.com, which they've been updating daily from Aurafice Internet Café on Capitol Hill's Pine Street. They sent out a press release several days before their adventure began, billing the week as a "web documentary." After the week was through, digital photos and audio clips--discreetly recorded throughout the week, Clark says, so as not to blow their cover--were uploaded to complete the documentary.
"We figured, as long as we're going to go through all this shit, we might as well do a website," says Weeks, a 25-year-old bartender at the Owl & Thistle near Pioneer Square (his coworkers have placed bets on whether he can stick it out for a full week). "The net café is the only luxury we have," added Clark, a 24-year-old web designer who is taking vacation pay for his week away.
Weeks, wearing Army-style fatigues and a baseball cap that hides his wavy (and dirty) hair, says he came up with the idea. "I thought, wouldn't it be wild to just go out and be homeless for a night?" he explained a few days earlier, relaxing under a streetlight at Seattle Center's International Fountain. Clark was game. "I'm always down for stupid, crazy, wild projects," he explains. "It's a chance to do something completely different."
It turns out it's also a chance to make a mockery out of homelessness. First of all, "going homeless" isn't something people do for entertainment, or as a vacation option (this isn't backpacking in Europe). Secondly, the guys aren't entirely sensitive to the plight of the homeless.
While the idea of personally experiencing homelessness may sound noble--after all, who would want to spend a week hungry, cold, and begging?--these two are treating it more as a Survivor-style adventure than as an exercise in social awareness. Sure, they're gaining an understanding about street life (and sharing that experience with the world, via the Internet), but they both know it's over very soon. How hard can it be to stick it out for a week, especially in the summer?
"They can always choose not to be homeless anymore," says Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change, Seattle's homeless newspaper. "All they have to do is go home and take a shower and take a nap, and the adventure's over."
Over at the Boomtown Café, a downtown restaurant where the homeless can get a meal for $1.25, director Bob Kubiniec agrees. "It's just a different reality when you can't go home, when you don't have a credit card back at your house, and that single pair of socks that you're wearing all week is really your only pair of socks."
Weeks and Clark have taken an easy route to homelessness: though they originally planned to spend time on Capitol Hill's Broadway, the Ave in the University District, and Pioneer Square's Occidental Park, the pair decided those areas were out of their league.
"[Those places] are almost a little too rough and tumble. The pecking order may be a bit too extreme," Clark explained. Instead, they've been napping in Seattle Center, begging for change along Denny Way, and spending the nights sleeping behind a Lower Queen Anne church. The guys were wary of a few homeless people who also slept there. "There were drunk people around the corner," Clark says.
If you take a closer look at these guys, their thickheaded views on the homeless aren't a surprise. Weeks, who lives in Belltown with his wife, has his own website (www.droppingbombsonyourmom.com), which features homeless voyeurism: photos he's taken of homeless folks from his balcony. They aren't empathetic photos, however. They're pictures of people pooping, and having sex in a nearby vacant lot. Weeks admits he finds the homeless folks outside of his window "funny."
"This week I enjoyed one of the finer points of urban living in my new Belltown apartment. Yup, you guessed it, I took a picture of homeless people having sex," Weeks says on his site. Later, he writes: "I'm currently engaged in some extended period stop-motion photography of the day labor pickup place. In a week or so I should have enough footage to stitch together a video for you goofy fucks." Weeks says his site is a joke, and isn't meant to offend. Clark has also taken undercover photos of homeless folks at Seattle Center, and posted them on his site, www.derrickito.com.
"This isn't National Geographic nature photography," says Harris at Real Change. "These are people living outside because they have to. It's exploitative."
To give the guys some credit, they are soliciting donations via their website for Boomtown Café (Clark and Weeks have been eating there all week). And they both pledge to donate as much money as they made panhandling to the café once they're home (about $25). Additionally, Weeks plans on volunteering his web skills to revamp Boomtown's website.
"Our volunteer coordinator is enthusiastic about [Homeless Week]. He thinks anytime somebody puts themselves in the shoes of those less fortunate it's a good thing, and I think that's compelling," Kubiniec says. "It's odd, and it's politically titillating, but I guess it's okay. There's worse things these boys could be doing."
Clark and Weeks say "Homeless Week" isn't so much a statement on street life, but a chance for personal gain. "It's for us," Clark says. And for the rest of the world, apparently--judging from their website, press release, digital equipment, and media interviews.