Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tales from the Count

I was up all night on the 25th, writing the press releases for the Annual One Night Count of the Homeless, and transcribing the stories of the volunteers who did the counting. Between myself and three other writers, we gathered hundreds of stories, only a tiny handful of which made it into the official press. The most interesting people to speak with are the ones who have heard about the count from friends or through the media, and are volunteering for the first time. They really have very little idea of what to expect, and have no clue as to how many people they are going to see on the streets or what kinds of makeshift provisions they've made for themselves. These are some random quotes from counters. There are literally hundreds more.

I didn't expect to see anyone, but I found a man in a doorway sleeping in a sleeping bag. He asked me for an aspirin.

We talked to a walker and he asked us what we were doing,. When we told him, he wanted us to tell him whether it was going to help him to get housing. He's upset at all the condos that are being built, but no affordable housing. "When we lay down we're harassed by peole who tell you to move somewhere else. And there are markets being built around the condos, by Paul Allen, but those aren't for us."

We were counting under a freeway, and we found a guy, then we realized that it was one of our clients. He invited us back to his campsite. He had a mattress, sleeping bag, some boxes of food and other belongings, it was pretty well stocked. There are other people living in that area in other campsites, and there's an agreement among them that they won't touch each other's stuff. So they go off during the day, and no one messes with their stuff. He said "you're my first guests." He said that they all need more services, and we had the impression that if he had other options, he would definitely not be living there.

In one area near a freeway there was a D.O.T. sign that said "no trespassing." On it someone had written "Fuck you D.O.T., I want my stuff back."

We counted someone on the premises of a building, and the building security guard said "oh yeah, I let them sleep here. I just tell them they have to get out in the morning, even though I know that building management doesn't want them around."

I found most of the people in loading docks. I didn't see people where I expected to, in parks and places like that. I found them in loading docks.

I was counting in a wooded area where I checked one week ago, with lots of bushes with campsites behind them. I went last night, and the bushes have been cleared and there are no more campsites. I found 2 people's ID's and food stamp cards that had been placed up on a concrete wall, so that when people came back they could find them. I found tarps and tennis shoes, but the place has been cleared.

I was going along and didn't think I'd see many people, but when I finished I counted 32 people spread out through the area.

I saw one kid who looked about 15 years old.

One guy had his electric blanket plugged in at a construction site. That was pretty smart.

John Iwasaki, a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer joined one of the Count teams and wrote a positive, sensitive and unusually accurate report about the Count for the morning paper. Thanks to Scott Eklund of the P-I for the photo.

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