Friday, November 26, 2010

Right to Heat

Seattle has a well-known, moving target of a homeless shelter called Nickelsville. It was sarcastically named after our former Mayor, who attempted to drive our homeless population out of the city by arresting the residents of a large cluster of tents. Ultimately the shelter was ordered to relocate every few months lieu of continuing this practice. If Hooverville comes to mind, well, you are historically correct and also an old fart like me.

Nickelsville is currently located in an abandoned fire station about four blocks from my place. There is a food bank within comfortable walking distance, and this happens to be my dog's most favored evening poop route. The food bank is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On those days, Sam and I are now joined by what can only be described as a pilgrimage of cackling drunks, limping disabled veterans and schizophrenic twenty-somethings, all headed toward their bi-weekly ration of stale hamburger buns and canned turnips.

There are those who think that beggars can't be choosers. But canned turnips?

Anyway, If you follow my blog you know that my neighborhood isn't exactly Beverly Hills. It's kind of a mixed bag. Some of my building mates have cars worth more than my 343 square foot condo. Some are barely hanging onto what they have, and steal what they don't have. It is, however, surrounded by large clusters of single family dwellings with landscaping, a Subaru in the driveway, a Grand Cherokee in the garage and an alarm system to keep out the riffraff.

Much of our canned-turnip-donating middle class votes liberal because they believe it's the right thing to do, so you'd think they would be open minded about a homeless shelter. You'd be wrong. In fact, there has been a surprising outcry against the current location of Nickelsville. Last week I read some op-ed pieces and responses to news blogs, by people who think their children are in danger from the influx of homeless. From my perspective somewhere between poor and middle class, I see fewer homeless people on the street than ever. They are spending most of the time inside. Wednesdays and Saturdays are the exceptions, and most are too busy trying to get to the food bank to bother terrorizing kids. You'd think opponents would have noticed the "improvement", but obviously not.

"Why don't they get jobs? They're just lazy drunks." The factors that go into making someone homeless are many and varied. It usually isn't one thing or another, but a series of events, that finally forces someone out their front door for the last time. To me this shows a strong will to live wherever they can. Let's face it, the other option is suicide. Survival is a full-time job for everyone.

This past week nighttime temperatures dipped into the low teens. Seattle rarely sees temperatures so low that exposure can be fatal within hours. Realizing what they were railing against, even the most public opponents of Nickelsville kept to themselves. Maybe a few of them learned that those "lazy drunks" don't deserve to freeze to death no matter why they're homeless.

Shelters exist to protect from the unexpected, not the expected.


  1. turnips? sheesh, tuna, soup, corn, green beans, peas...all very cheap to buy & donate and much more humane. Yes humane, because even the poorest, drunkest and mentally ill are human and deserve something more, well common to eat.

  2. Yeah. Totally. And I don't even hate turnips. Found some canned goods in our building's donation box that expired five years ago. Rusted, even. Lovely.

  3. I agree. I remember feeding homeless folks in Downtown Seattle for about three years. I found them to be gracious, and hugely thankful. I'm sure that the line that reached at least 200+ is now, several years later, much longer. We are all human, and who are we to deny another human being a little shelter?

    Thanks, once again, for your eloquent words~