Friday, January 30, 2009

No Safety In Numbers

Once again I was asked to be the media coordinator for the annual One Night Count of the Homeless in King County. The Count is quite an impressive undertaking, with more than 800 people across the county volunteering to miss a whole night's sleep for a walk in the cold, during which they do their damnedest to count every person living on the streets.

As before, my task involved writing up the press releases and chatting up the media, but the most interesting part of my work was talking to the volunteers and transcribing their stories. Without fail, the experience has a huge impact on those counters who are volunteering for the first time and have little idea of what to expect. Those of us who work with the homeless day in and day out can forget that this is a population which is essentially invisible, even to huge hearted people who believe in our cause. Through the courtesy of the Seattle/King County Coalition for the Homeless, these are a few of the quotes from people I spoke with. There are literally hundreds more.

"I was looking under the freeway and I found a wheelchair with a guy sleeping on the ground beside it. It was like a nightmare. How did this guy get under the freeway in his wheelchair? How was he going to get back into his chair? And where was he going to go? I know we weren't supposed to help the people we saw, but man..."

"I heard coughing coming from a porta potty on a construction site. Later I came back to count him. He told me he had been kicked out of a shelter in Everett for smoking pot."

"When we were counting we were approached by three men who wanted information on housing. They just arrived in the country from Southeast Asia and didn't have any work or any income. I didn't know what to tell them."

"In one area there had obviously been a large camp that was posted and swept by the cops on January 27th. There was one person there, and they were sleeping behind all the garbage bags that the city had filled with debris."

"I saw a guy leaning against a wall, sleeping on his bike."

Me? I'm glad I have a bed to sleep in. And that's where I'm headed.

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