by: Chris Legeros Updated:
SEATTLE - Take a good look the next time you drive into Seattle.
You'll see campsites tucked under highway bridges.
Most of the homeless have no interest in talking to reporters.
Walter “Leon” Lawson was one of the exceptions. We asked him why he lives outside.
“To me, it’s more of an adventure,” said Lawson.
He has been living under one of the spans near Seattle’s First South Bridge for almost four years.
“I just like the freedom of living out like this,” said Lawson.
At the base of Beacon Hill, under Interstate 5, we found Paul. He wouldn't share his last name. He called his campsite ringed with rocks and stuffed animals the "Fortress."
Paul has spent five years living under the highway.
“I don’t like being inside. No, I don’t know what it’s like anymore,” said Paul.
He steered us to a friend camping just 100 feet away.
We asked Jacob Pinon when he moved under the highway.
“I’ll let you do the math – 1997,” said Pinon.
We asked him again, just to make sure we heard him correctly, whether he had been camping outside for 17 years.
“Off and on, when I haven’t been in the hoosegow,” said Pinon.
Mark Putnam was just hired in December to head the Committee to End Homelessness in King County.
“I feel like everybody deserves a safe place to live and to have a roof over their head,” said Putnam.
His goal is make sure homelessness is rare, and that if somebody is out on the streets, it's only for a short time.
Putnam said that's what most of them want and studies have been done that show “91 percent want housing, and they want to get inside.”
Incredibly, in just a few hours on a chilly day in January, we found three men in their 50s who claimed they chose to live outside, not for weeks or months, but for years.
“I don’t have a lot of problems out here. Most people leave me alone and I pretty much stay to myself,” said Lawson.
Lawson shuns the shelters downtown and tent cities. He said many of the homeless are drug addicts, thieves or mentally ill.
“Anywhere where they’re grouped together, I try to avoid it, just for my own safety,” said Lawson.
Paul claimed to be so claustrophobic that he can't be confined by four walls and a ceiling. So he stays outside, and survives primarily on what others throw away.
“I actually eat out of dumpsters a lot. I go down to Burger King and Jack In The Box. They throw away a bunch of burgers and stuff,” said Paul.
Jacob Pinon freely admitted he's struggled with addiction to cocaine. He hasn't applied for low-income housing and said he's become accustomed to living outside.
“You don’t have rules and regulations and you don’t have nobody to tell you what to do, either,” said Pinon.
Those interviews prompted another question for the man charged with ending homelessness in King County.
We asked Mark Putnam, “How do you help people who claim they don’t want help?”
“We need to talk to them more, identify how we can get them into programs that can work for them. We must not be providing something that they need, so how can we do that for them?” Putnam said.
He said King County has been able to end homelessness for more than 30,000 people, both individuals and families, over the past eight years, but added, "We have a lot more work to do."