Joey has been swept six or seven times now, he estimated. His most recent sweep, at Hubbard Homestead Park on May 17, did not include an offer for shelter, but he would have happily taken one. He’d been in shelter before, he said, but it didn’t last.
“They gave us a spot at the Bitter Lake shelter there, and me and my girl, we didn’t end up working out,” he said. His relationship status might seem like a non-sequitur here, but he said they were both required to check in at the shelter every three days. When she didn’t show, he got kicked out.
Like so, so many others, he originally became homeless because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost him his work. He grew up in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, not too far from Hubbard Homestead. He lived in Wedgwood, too, and went to Roosevelt High School before transferring to John Marshall Alternative High, which closed in 2008.
While staying at the Bitter Lake shelter, Joey was able to work again, doing “general contracting, chimney work, construction, stuff like that.” Now, he’s out of work and unsheltered.
“It’s hard to go back to a tent. It’s really hard to go back to,” he said. He hasn’t set up his own tent this time around, he said, instead staying with friends.
“It’s been more than [a spot to crash] at most of these parks. Most of these people are like family now. We’re all in it together,” he said. And they go through it together.
“They push us from one park to another, one spot to another,” he said. While he hasn’t had success in getting housed, he was hesitant to say that it was because of a lack of help.
“There’s been a lot of help. And the people that do it, that have come as outreach workers, they’ve been absolutely great in making sure that we’re treated like people,” he said.
What he thinks might accomplish more, Joey said, is giving outreach workers more time to spend with their clients to get to know them a little better.
“If you got to, if it’s important enough to you, go to where those people are and talk to them and spend a day with them and help them out through the day as they need, whatever they need,” he said.
The same goes for housed neighbors, he said. While he understands their fear, he thinks the easiest way to dispel it is by talking, person-to-person: “We’re all human beings, but a lot of the time, people who don’t know the situation are uncomfortable, for sure.”
Asked what he would do if he were put in charge of ending the homelessness crisis, he had a pretty similar answer.
If he were the mayor, he said, “I’d be out here right now, today. I don’t see no reason why he shouldn’t be. If it’s such a big issue for him, that should be something that he should understand better.”
You can get all the briefings and watch all the videos you want, he added, but “until you spend a day out here, or even a night, you don’t really know.”
He wasn’t sure if the sweep that day would end with him getting shelter (it didn’t for many others) but said he wasn’t so worried about himself.
“I’ve always kind of had a feeling like I’m going to be okay,” Joey said. “I’m worried about everybody else. People who aren’t going to be okay, that I know aren’t going to be okay because there’s so many of us, so many of them, that aren’t, you know? So many people have died lately. It’s ridiculous. Every day another friend has passed, and it’s really, really hard.”
He said that he and most of his fellow campers do have access to Narcan, thankfully, and know how to use it. He keeps it with him “faithfully” and has even been revived by it once himself.
“It completely scared the hell out of me. I’ll tell you what: It changed my behavior a lot,” he said.
He’s been talking to a social worker recently who is optimistic about helping him get into stable housing.
“It absolutely gave me hope when she said, ‘You could have an apartment within a few months, but you just have to stay on top of what they need from you and stick it through,’” he said. “And I’m to the point where I’m ready to stick it through. I’m done with being so cold and being so hungry.”
He’s also done with being looked down on, Joey said. “It’s rough getting kicked out of doorways and stores and looked at by the neighbors.”
He wasn’t ready to say that getting housed would instantly end that treatment but concluded, “I think inside I’ll feel different.”
For those who do look down their noses at homeless people, he had a few parting words of wisdom.
“Everybody love everybody,” he urged. “We’re all people. Doesn’t matter where you come from and what you are, we’re all people. Don’t treat people like less than you, less than you’d like to be treated. It’s pretty simple.”
Read more of the June 7-13, 2023 issue.