According to an article in the online Seattle PI, the U.S. Census Bureau says less than half of the people living in Washington state in 2018 were born here. They also say nearly two-thirds of Seattleites were born in other states.
A reader survey done in the 1980s by one of the daily papers found that roughly half of the respondents had come to this area only within the previous 15 years.
I love statistics like these because, well, I like numbers, but also I like numbers that blow things up. Also, I wasn’t born here, either.
I’ve always felt bad about not being born here. I know I shouldn’t. It was not my fault that my mother was in South Carolina at the time. I didn’t drive her there. My father, who was born in Auburn, Washington, drove her there. Then, he drove us both out of there two weeks after I was born. So it was entirely his fault.
Most of you readers, if you’re representative of the census figures, were likewise wrongfully born outside the state you are living in now. You, too, can blame others.
Anyway, getting back to things being blown up. These statistics undermine the idea that homelessness is about people coming here from other states for the homelessness services. Most of us come from other states.
People do not come here for the homelessness services.
Very few come with the intention of being homeless. People come here in the hopes of getting a job and not being homeless. Then, for some, something goes wrong.
How did Pioneer Square become the historic home to the down-and-out? Seattle’s Skid Row started as Skid Road, called that because it was used in the early years of the city to skid logs down to Henry Yesler’s sawmill.
So Skid Road/Row was a place of employment. Logs were skidded by loggers paid to chop down trees and deliver them to the mill.
Those workers came to the Pacific Northwest because there was logging to be done here.
Other people came to Seattle looking for work of other kinds, including work that was a byproduct of loggers.
Eventually, there was no more logging in Seattle. It was over at least by 1889, when Yesler’s mill burned down in the Great Seattle Fire.
Skid Road, which had been a place of employment, became a place of unemployment. For people who came here from other states with no intention of ending up unemployed.
Speaking of, what was my father doing being born in Auburn? That was his father’s fault. His father came to Seattle, most likely from California, to get work in the coal mines near Auburn — not as a coal miner, but as an electrician.
Coal mining was a big deal in this area, bigger than logging, but it began to wind down after World War I. By the time my father started grade school, his father was retired and the family moved to a house on Seattle’s Beacon Hill, to live on a pension augmented by growing vegetables, fruit trees, chickens and rabbits in the backyard.
Had my grandfather not had that pension, would it have made sense for him to move the family back to where they came from? Of course not. That place was history to him.
People still come to Seattle from other states expecting to find work in the fishing industry. One man I knew was lucky. He wasn’t even from this country, but he came here to fish and found work ocean fishing. Until something went wrong. He injured his hand in an accident at sea and couldn’t fish anymore. So he was homeless until he could get disability benefits and move into single-room occupancy (SRO) housing.
If the same thing happens to someone today, even getting disability benefits probably wouldn’t end their homelessness, because there are no SROs left.
Where did all the SROs go? They went the way of logging jobs and the coal industry — history. They didn’t make their landlords enough profit. Forty years ago, Seattle’s population was a little over 500,000. Now, it’s getting near 750,000, boosted by the influx of all those people coming here from other states, so many of whom actually get the jobs they come here looking for and can afford regular apartments or even houses or condominiums.
Why rent SROs to poor people when you can rebuild and profit more from people with good jobs?
Everything falls into place after you blow it all up.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at drwes (at) realchangenews (dot) org
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