“We’re not leaving now because it pissed us off,” one resident said, defiantly.
On Feb. 20, Jesse got mail. Hate mail, to be specific. Slipped under the wipers of his RV, which he’d recently parked on a stretch of 16th Avenue SW outside South Seattle College, was a short note threatening to damage his vehicle and warning that its authors were “ready and looking to fight.”
His brother, whose fifth-wheel setup is parked right behind him, also received the note, as did Emily and Michelle, who live in similar rigs on the other side of the street. The letter, couched in sympathetic language (its salutation is “Dear Friend,” and it opens by saying, “I am sincerely sorry you are in the position you are in.”), warns its recipients that they “are all being monitored closely” and accuses them of receiving drugs.
“When the first lot of RVs showed up here last year, it brought the neighborhood together,” the letter reads. “Our kids are scared. Our wives were harassed. Some of you are sex offenders, drug dealers, or addicts. All of you make a mess.”
Jesse doesn’t even drink, he said, and is extremely careful to pick up trash around his RV, so he has no idea what this person is on about. He said someone had been coming by the cluster of RVs and sprinkling syringes around, though. It was always the same number — 25 — and they were always brand new.
“I mean, if you’re going to make me look bad, at least make them be used syringes, not brand new ones,” Jesse joked. Besides syringes, he reported enduring several other acts of illegal dumping and vandalism. He also recently woke up to an unhinged rant directed at one of his fellow vehicle residents.
“He’s following this lady around, just telling her what a piece of shit she is, and [stuff like], ‘You live like a fucking pig,’ and this and that,” Jesse said. He popped his head out the window and, with a few choice words, got the harassment to stop. Such behavior was commonplace, he said.
“You don’t want to like us, that’s fine,” he said. “But don’t come berating people and treating them like they’re garbage, because that’s not the case.”
The spot where they parked was home to a much larger cluster of RVs that the city cleared in October 2022. Jesse wasn’t part of that pod, he said, and only parked on 16th Avenue SW because he’d been run out of his previous spot, down by Salty’s on Alki, with no warning.
He grew up down the road, he said, so even though he doesn’t have an address, West Seattle is home. Despite the threatening letter, he doesn’t plan to move from his current spot. Unless the city kicks him out again, of course. For now, he’s just going to keep his little strip of sidewalk clean and keep a sharp eye out for anyone with ill intent.
As Jesse spoke, Dave, a family friend and mechanic who was there to fix the driver’s side door on Jesse’s brother’s truck, butted in. He wanted to make sure the public knew that “any place these boys are parked is a safer, better place for it.”
Combatting misconceptions around homelessness, Jesse said, is what made him want to speak to the media about the note.
“It’s just a preconceived notion that people have that all homeless people are evil, and I’m trying to squash that,” he said. The media’s portrayal of the homeless isn’t exactly flattering, he added.
“You never see a story about them good on the news, do you? Why?” he asked. “Because it’s easier to just villainize us.”
Taking the time to come talk to him directly, he added, would probably change a lot of people’s perceptions about homeless people. If the letter’s writers had done so, he said, “I would definitely spend the time to try and enlighten them.”
If they’d taken the time to talk to Michelle and Emily, they might discover that they are cat lovers, not drug dealers. They hauled Michelle’s cat, Carebear, out for a photo op on the tall, elaborate cat tree that Emily was absolutely convinced would fit into her fifth wheel trailer. Michelle had her doubts. For now it was on the sidewalk, and Carebear, who is, at 27 pounds, very accurately nicknamed “Squarebear,” was more than happy to investigate.
Like Jesse, Michelle and Emily said they weren’t necessarily scared, but they were fed up. Shortly after speaking with Real Change, Michelle emailed to add that someone had come by and dumped out syringes again — another unused bag.
They, too, reported constant harassment for the simple offense of living in their vehicles. In this case, though, it wasn’t having the effect the letter writers intended.
“We’re not leaving now because it pissed us off,” Michelle said, noting that they would have moved within 72 hours otherwise.
While harassment and property damage is a fact of life for vehicle residents, Jesse said he did see the letter as an escalation. Jesse warned that without some action on the part of local authorities, things will only get worse.
“They’re getting fed up because they’re not seeing any difference,” he said of the letter’s author or authors. “So they’re feeling that [their complaints are] falling on deaf ears, and I get that. So now they want to take more steps... [that] is the letter thing. So now it’s escalating, and now when they don’t get any satisfaction from this, it will escalate again.”
The letter writer, apparently, agrees with Jesse’s assessment of the situation:
“Everyone has handled this differently. Some file reports. Some complain to the mayor. But now, we are fed up and some people are ready to make your life sheer hell and will damage your vehicles so that they will no longer keep you warm or be driveable.”
Tobias Coughlin-Bogue is the associate editor at Real Change.
Read more of the Mar. 1-7, 2023 issue.