Every day since the coronavirus struck Seattle, Michael Dare Sr. leaves his apartment on the top floor of Ernestine Anderson Place and goes outside. The complex, meant for low-income people who are 55 or older, no longer allows visitors, in order to protect the tenants who are in the age group most greatly impacted by the virus: those over 60.
But Dare Sr. doesn’t feel like he has a choice. His 33-year-old son, Michael Dare Jr., is homeless and sleeps across the street under the overhang of a building that has gone largely unused after Gov. Jay Inslee and local health officials cracked down on large gatherings.
Under normal conditions, Dare Jr. would spend his days in his father’s apartment, washing clothes, getting food and selling jewelry he finds at Goodwill on eBay.
Now, Dare Jr. can’t get past the front door.
“I understand why they’re being cautious,” Dare Sr. said. “I’m not giving up on my son.”
Coronavirus hit Seattle and King County hard. The first known case in the United States appeared in Snohomish County at the end of January, but the highly contagious disease traveled quickly throughout the state and country. At press time, there were 4,896 confirmed infections and 195 deaths in the state.
State and local government officials ramped up restrictions on Washingtonians, first prohibiting gatherings of more than 250 people, then 50 and then banning them altogether. Now, people are told to keep 6 feet between them unless they’re sheltering together.
At the same time, buildings throughout the community that specifically house older adults began putting restrictions on visitors. Ernestine Anderson Place, owned by the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), was no exception.
That meant huge changes for Dare Jr.
He’s used to sleeping outside. A deflated air mattress spread over hard concrete, softened by piles of fabric and surrounded by the occasional discarded food container, shows where he has been spending his nights. The difference is that he can’t leave anymore during the day.
“I’ve just been sitting here all day,” Dare Jr. said. At one point in the interview, he had to leave to use the restroom. He can’t access the one in his father’s apartment and many public restrooms in the city have closed, so he can only go to the one in a park away from his campsite. His dad can watch his stuff sometimes, but otherwise he has to risk it.
Dare Sr. is 67. He’s lived at Ernestine Anderson Place practically since it opened — he recalls going to put an application in when he himself was experiencing homelessness several years ago and being told that he was the first. Dare Sr. doesn’t have underlying health conditions, but knows he is at risk for catching the disease. He’s also aware that his sorties come with dangers of their own.
Dare Jr. doesn’t come into contact with many people, but he is out in the world, touching surfaces and using public facilities. There is a lot the scientific community doesn’t know about coronavirus, but it does seem that the virus can survive on surfaces for days at a time, unless they are sanitized. When Dare Sr. leaves to care for his son, he’s taking a gamble on catching coronavirus or bringing it back into his complex, leaving traces on the elevator buttons or doorknobs.
If Dare Jr. contracted the illness, it would take days to find out — many young people can catch coronavirus and never demonstrate symptoms, walking through the world shedding the virus and potentially infecting other people. The virus also survives on fabric, which Dare Sr. tries to take into the complex to clean, although it’s heavy.
Ideally, the Dares would live together, watching television, eating meals and selling glittery watches they pack in bubble wrap and ship to customers. It would be safer, they argue, than the current situation, where Dare Sr. chances the virus and Dare Jr. is cut off from needed hygiene facilities. Frequent hand-washing and social distancing are the best ways to stay safe, according to health professionals.
“I don’t know what to do,” Dare Sr. said. “This rule, which is banning visitors, is supposed to make me safer. I’m way less safe. I can’t just stay home. And my son is less safe too. He literally can’t go anywhere. Where is there for him to go to get inside when it starts raining next week? Every public place he can go to, to get out of the rain, is closed.
“It’s making me crazy,” Dare Sr. said.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the Apr. 1-7, 2020 issue.