Monday, January 3, 2011

Homeless Homeless Everywhere

I attended this week's SHARE/Nickelsville meeting. Once a month the group meets at the Nickelsville encampment, the rest of the month they meet at the SHARE downtown officeThis was a Nickelsville week and I was looking forward to seeing the site. I'd heard a bit about it and wanted to see how it compared to Tent City, where I've been living,  a couple miles to the southeast. Nickelsville is an unsanctioned homeless encampment in Lake City at the old fire station. It's been in the news lately because of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness and because Mayor McGinn is working in earnest to find Nickelsville a permanent site. The meeting was congenial and well run. Credit is given those who attend, so there was a sizeable group, about 25, gathered in the community room, which is also a bunkroom. There were cots and bedrolls and bags of personal belongings lining the walls. It being just after 9am, there were still a few people in bed sleeping. Others were sitting up, working on crafts or reading. After the general discussion, we broke into committees. Half an hour later, we reconvened and reported on our work. I served on the Needs Assessment CommitteeDeputy Mayor Darryl Smith is asking to work with the homeless encampments to initiate an ongoing, anonymous survey of the homeless in Seattle. As with everything, the decision is considered and put to a vote. Should we work with the city? Should we accept the survey? Does it address our needs? What changes, if any, should we make? Who should administer the survey, an insider or an outsider? Copies of the survey were distributed. We took some time to fill it out and then talked about the experience. The survey requests information on your origins, gender and race. It asks about your willingness to find and keep housing. It asks about your sources of income, your impediments to finding housing, and your use of and need for social services. The city says they want to better allocate funds for the homeless, but to the homeless person completing the survey, those services may seem desperately far away or absent altogether. The incentive to fill the survey out is a gift certificate, dollar amount undisclosed. Our group of four was split. After much discussion, we decided, with some rewording and clarification, we could accept the survey on a trial basis of three months, if administered by someone in camp.
Dream Catcher
I met one the TC3 founders at Nickelsville. Falcon is an administrator at Nickelsville now. He showed me his dream catchers (he makes them) and took me on a tour of the camp. Their footprint is about half the size of TC3's current camp. Some of the residents live outside in tents, others live inside on cots. The insiders sleep in common rooms, a couple of feet from one another, on cots or bedrolls, with no dividers and no furniture for their belongings. They collectively share one refrigerator, one freezer and one tv. They are one hundred people. Pet owners stay together in one room. Cats and dogs, all on leashes, perch on their owners' beds looking innocently about. They seem healthy and well-behaved. The Animal Rescue League offered to license, spay/neuter and microchip any animal at Nickelsville free-of-charge. I wonder why, if you could live in warmth and comfort, you would choose to live at Tent City? At Nickelsville, you have access to indoor spaces, hot showers, plumbing, a kitchen with a sink, a stove and cupboards. With rules, come freedoms. More is required of you at Tent City but then there are more freedoms. The freedom to be cold. The freedom to be wet. The freedom to get rid of problems. The freedom to speak out and be heard.

Square One
After the Nickelsville meeting and tour, I went back to TC3. It was windy and snowing. The sky was in a dark mood. The fence was coming down. Bits of paper and bags were blowing about. A few people were sitting around recharging their computers and phones, eating, smoking, staring into space. I took in a handful of the Tether Gallery posters. I'm meant to be filling them with original art. "Want to make some art?" "No." "Want to try an experiment?" "No." "Want to be part of a gallery show?" "No." "What do you want to do?" "Let me think about it. I'll get back to you." It was cold. My head hurt. I was tired of trying, tired of being stressed out, tired of the conditions and the schedule and the need to produce something. Forget it. I give up. I can't do this on my own. I don't even want to. I have 200 blank posters and too few willing artists. It's not their fault. No one said they had to want to make art. I had hoped to organize a performance. I had hoped to make a film. I had hoped to construct a reading room. I had hoped to do so many things. But it's cold and we're sick and tired of the conditions. Our situation is leagues less than ideal and there's no end in sight. So maybe it doesn't want doing. Which is fine. Just fine. I don't want to be a ringleader. Or a misleader. Or a savior. Or a commander. Or anything at all. I just want to live and observe and communicate. Back to Square One. Hah. Square One. I spend a lot of time there. It happens every day or so. And it's frustrating and exhausting and confusing and makes me want to quit. How many times can you invent a project? I'm used to developing something and seeing it through. I'm not used to continually reinventing and failing and reinventing and failing again and...ugh.. all the many shifting variables. Whatever it is I'm doing, I quit. I have nothing to prove. Yes, I can be cold, but you could always be colder. Yes, I can be hardy, but you can get hardier than this. Yes, I can be insightful, but you already know everything. Yes, I know nothing. It's true. I'll never know your experience. It's impossible. And it's time to recoil now. Maybe in a day or two, I will try again, try to offer and receive, think of something new, but for now I quit. I'm getting too involved, too enmeshed. I care now at a fighting level and that's not good. I'm no longer in a position where I can help. I've been beaten down. And now I'm one of you. And here comes the song. I can feel it. Yes, here it comes.

I no longer notice them, the coughing ones around. Has it stopped? No wait. There. Someone sneezed. We're still sick. We've been sick all along, since before we began. I just finished a course of antibiotics. I got sick while I was on them. And now that I'm through, I'm sick again. Fatigue, sinus pain, congestion, headache. Oooo. I finally scheduled an appointment to see the doctor. I've just been sick too much. Like my many artist friends, I have no health insurance. If there's something wrong beyond what Country Doctor (clinic) can fix, I'll have to wait until I have health insurance. Alas. I'm just an artist. Expendable.

Tether Design Gallery
A designer-run gallery dedicated to supporting emerging artists, designers and visionaries.
323 Occidental Avenue South
Pinoeer Square, Seattle
Opening: Thursday January 6th, 2011 (6-8PM)
Regular Gallery Hours: M-F, 11-5PM

1 comment:

  1. Alas, you are not the only one "expendable" in the business of medicine. Even those of us who were lucky enough to be called to a career that gives us medical insurance are often denied coverage for serious or chronic illnesses. The insurance companies consider all but their top shareholders expendable. It is unbelievable and tragic.

    The more I read your blog the more I think there must be a better answer for homelessness than a permanent tent city site. No one should have to live outside in winter in this town. Everyone deserves walls and a roof and warmth.