It was well past midnight but I was up for it. In the shivering wind, drizzles and amid the silence of the street I was exploring the glittering city with my new mates. We jumped from street to street and also looked for a restaurant to quell the appetite. But something along the way shocked me. It made me realize that homeless people exist as a problem in Seattle.
After spending some days here, I have developed a better perception about the homeless by discussing with Seattleites and other international students. But being an exchange student from a developing nation has made me even more curious to understand the stories behind the stereotype of homelessness.
“It wasn’t my mother’s call that woke me up every day some months after my sixteenth birthday but the shivering wind, sound of cracked leaves, footsteps and chattering of passerby,” says Micheal Dotts. Like Michael there are some 4,505 homeless people in King Country who call the streets their home. The 36th Annual One Night Count of homeless people in King Country states the increase in population by 19 percent in comparison with the survey of 2015.
While I asked Michael a bit more about his past, he took a deep breath and revealed that he nearly died a few years ago and his silence was self-explanatory. “I come from East St. Louis. I was involved in a lot of gang activities. That almost killed me. But here I am alive in Seattle and that’s only because of God’s will.”
Even after coming to Seattle, he still had the attitude problem and addiction and kept taking one wrong step after another. “Now I am trying to transform myself into the man who believes in family, Jesus and the church” he said.
In Seattle, over one half of the homeless population are single adults who usually tend to isolate themselves and thus are unaware of the support they are entitled to as per local law and the constitution. Statistics show that approximately 50-60 percent of the homeless population use drugs and the rest are prone to mental illness. Among the mentally ill many are chronic homeless who were released when the mental hospitals were shut down. The majority are episodically homeless.
“I can never forgive myself for destroying my dad’s assets. There were three prostitutes and a supply of drugs of many kinds in the house. I earned a lot until the policemen came and shut down my ‘business’. The house was taken too. After that I came to Seattle,” said Michael.
He spends his nights in abandoned cars or on the pavements. Sometimes he rests on a park bench of a park. Lately, he reckons life has become better for him in Seattle as his belief in his capacity to change for good has returned. Last year he joined an organization called Real Change and currently manages to live on selling newspapers.
This has made a great impact on his outlook. He has become a humble person with positive thoughts and attitude. “Now all I can think about is earning money by selling newspapers.”
He is already staying off booze and drugs and attends rehab sessions for alcoholics. He is on probation but close to paying off the fines. He is also doing community services.
“I am getting Section 8 housing in a few months. I plan to marry my girlfriend and after that will settle down, and stay with my eight baby girls. All I want is a decent life by the time I reach my forties.”
His story has the making of an American dream. “I will have a car soon and I hope to go to the truck driving school and one day I will have my own truck.”
People should not judge the homeless people. Rather there should be more willingness to understand the reasons and to provide options so that they get motivated and thus can improve their lifestyle.
Any kind of family bonding is important and the government should provide permanent solutions – jobs and housing so that people can break the cycle of homelessness and become stable and productive citizens.
After talking to some homeless people, I feel that it is not your money or any monetary value that they need, rather your affection and the warmth of your smile can help change a life.
This story was produced by a student in the “Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI)” program, a collaboration between The Seattle Globalist and FIUTS, supported by the U.S. Department of State. The program brings 20 undergraduates from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Nepal to Seattle. Participants study journalism and new media, and participate in volunteer and service activities, leadership workshops, and cultural excursions. The story is an example of student work and has not yet been through the Seattle Globalist’s standard editing and fact-checking process.