Couple prefers streets to Seattle's shelters

Couple prefers streets to Seattle's shelters

SEATTLE — A couple living on Seattle’s streets says the city is failing to understand the homelessness crisis. They say homeless sweeps are pointless.

"They always say they have shelter," Sean told KIRO Radio's Colleen O'Brien. "But I've seen it time and time again. They don't have it. They say they have it for couples; it's a lie. They say you can push the bunks together; they are not about that. And the stuff that I keep to try and sell to make money on the side, things people throw away and discard, where would that go? It's supposed to be in a backpack. That's it. Pack in and pack out."

“I can’t come out of the situation I’m in if I’m forced to stay at that level,” he said. “I’ve got to be able to do something to try and come out of it.”

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Sean lives with his partner, Jordan, in a tent. One of Seattle’s homeless sweeps recently came to their camp in Ravenna Park. They returned and continue to live there.

“It’s the safest place we can think of,” Sean said. “It’s better than going to a place that is more commonly used because everything you have will be taken.”

“One of our neighbors is more welcoming, so that’s good to have the support, instead of having the glares when they come by,” he said. “(He’s) a homeowner. He’s a cool cat. He realized that we were keeping his place safe by being there. None of his stuff gets messed with. Nobody messes with anything on our street because I’ll find you.”

Homeless sweeps in Seattle

Jordan echoes Sean’s sentiment.

“I believe that the people in charge don’t even know what they need to be doing to help us,” she said.

There are low-barrier shelters in Seattle where couples like Sean and Jordan can stay for extended periods and store their belongings. Those places are full, however, and have waiting lists. The 100-bed Compass-First Presbyterian shelter and the 75-bed Navigation Center offer 24/7 shelter and services. Yet there are thousands living in tents in Seattle.

The rate of Seattle homeless sweeps has slowed, but the city continues to move people out of illegal camps. A Navigation Team engages homeless campers, offering services. Then the city posts notices at least 72 hours before a homeless sweep.

“They are not doing anything,” Sean said. “They’re not even giving us snacks or hand warmers when they show up. They are like, ‘We got these services.’ What services? You are going to talk to me while I gather my stuff. Then I’m going to leave and you are going to tear everything down – and I’m going to wait a while and come back.”

One difference in recent time, Sean notes, is that officials are nicer when they sweep them.

Better solutions

A solution would be a permanent place to stay and keep personal belongings.

“I want to see places set up to where people can go and not have to go through this cycle of going to 10 different buildings to live in for a few months, here and there for two years,” Sean said. “And if you don’t get it in two years, then, sorry buddy, back on the streets. That’s how it works. And you have to wait a long time just to do that.”

“A lot of this is people dealing with traumatic experiences – people lose people, people end up shut out from their family,” he said. “And it’s detrimental to their mental health. So they need time to realize they actually matter. They need to find they can do something good … It takes people time. I don’t know if you’ve ever lost someone close, but sometimes it doesn’t ever heal.”

Another aspect of the homeless crisis, Sean points out, is the culture and family among the homeless. Solutions don’t consider those bonds. Sean has been offered housing in the past, but he feels he can’t leave his people on the street.

“They’ve offered it, but I’ve made a family out here,” he said. “All these people I live next to, they are not just like my friends. They are my family. I am perfectly able to join a program. Really, I could go somewhere else and pick up and start. I think I’m capable of it. But I love her, and all the people around me; I love them. I’m not just going to jump into a house and watch this continue to go on.”

Hear Sean and Jordan's full conversation with KIRO Radio here.