Port Townsend is a boat building, Victorian, seaside arts community that is popular with the retirement set. I’ve been here for one month and so far I have mixed feelings about it. Some people I’ve run into are outright friendly; others give me the feeling that they’re undercover racists but are too ball-less to show it. I could be wrong; wouldn’t be the first time, but that gnawing feeling one gets when one is stared at by strangers in public emporiums and other places seems to invade my thoughts negatively every so often. I’m holding out hope that, being homeless, I’m just accidentally running into the dregs of society and things will take a turn for the positive once I’m domiciled.
As far as the city proper is concerned, it is a small town so I wasn’t expecting wall to wall excitement. There are a lot of parks around, enough so that I can find places to doze off, in my car or out. They have quite a few restaurants, too. The problem here is they’re all expensive. Average meals range in price from $10 to $14 as opposed to Seattle where I’m used to $7 to $12. The two libraries I’ve been to are par for the course. Architecture here is great if you’re into that sort of thing. Crime isn’t frequent or intense here. About four to six people end up in jail every day because of crimes like drug possession, misdemeanor assaults and driving violations. I did notice an apartment complex that, while not ghetto, did seem ghetto-ish from outside. It has a pretty name, too: Nor’West Village. My name is on their wait list but I hope they don’t pick me.
The beaches here are pristine, almost as if no human has ever set foot on them. That was a surprise given how people love to graffiti and litter at every opportunity. I’m still in the shelter and probably will be for the next month or two. I try to come in late and leave early as much as I can because some of the clients rub me the wrong way. There is no lack of negative personalities here, that’s for sure. Next week I’m driving down to Poulsbo to pick up my bi-pap machine; people complain a lot here about my snoring so the machine should help. So far, I’m surviving. Things could be better, things could be worse. I’ll give the city another a month or two. If things don’t start looking up I may reconsider shooting back to Seattle. We’ll see.
I’ve been staying in the shelter in Port Townsend for about a week. Since it’s closed during the day, I use the free time to set up my mailing address, put in several housing applications, find quiet streets to doze off in my car when I’m tired, find places to hang out during the day (The Boiler Room, the Public Library, Fort Worden State Park) and set up medical care at Jefferson Healthcare. I learned something new this week – I have sleep apnea. The residents at the shelter alerted me to my loud snoring and irregular sleeping patterns and encouraged me to have a pulmonologist check it out. It seems I might have to start sleeping with a CPAP machine due to a lower jaw that’s shorter than normal, a wider than normal neck, and narrow throat passageways which makes breathing during sleep difficult. It seems like if it’s not one thing, it’s another. So far, Port Townsend is agreeing with me. I like it here even though I’ve only been here for nine days. Like the sound outside of town says, this is an arts community. I should blend in like a flake in a snowstorm. And that would suit me just fine.
News media outlets cover the plight of the homeless in their tabloids every day, presenting to the world all kinds of statistics related to the downtrodden and un-domiciled. And, you know, when you’re in the midst and thick of it as I am, you can get pretty cynical in regards to how the government is actually working to end homelessness. Here in Seattle, the attempt is a joke. To wit:
In any jurisdiction, you call 211 for info. Their job is to steer you towards assistance. Right now, I won’t go into how ineffective they are, but after calling them up a few times, it’s pretty obvious the volunteers are clueless.
I was recently looking into CEA – Coordinated Entry for All – a system that’s supposedly in place to get people off the streets. I went so see them Thursday & Friday but was told I had to make an appointment through 211. So I called 211. They said I should try the CEA offices in the Central District because the Northgate Office I was looking into works by appointment only. Or, 211 suggests, I can always take a trip to the Redmond Public Library on Monday between 1 to 3 PM, but like the other CEA officers, I am not guaranteed to be seen because they operate on a first come first served basis. The 211 operator told me to call him back next Wednesday to see if any interview slots opened up. Now, I don’t mind sleeping in my car, but suppose i didn’t have it. Where am I to sleep for the next frigid weeks? Shelters are filled up around town and public parks kick you out from 11pm to 4am – perfect sleeping time.
The Homeless Problem is getting no better in Seattle. Maybe I should try homelessness somewhere else, like Port Townsend or Port Angeles. Now, that’s an idea.
No one has to tell me I’m pretty cynical. I already know that. It’s how my extreme black and white thinking works and it’s something I can’t turn off, no matter how hard I’ve tried. That said, I often “weaken” to play the naive fool. Every so often, I try to give society the benefit of the doubt and seek out care for my homelessness and mental issues. In the end, all I did was illustrate just how incompetent, frustrating, useless, parasitical, insulting, ass-backwards, corrupt, inconsequential and self-serving “carers” were. It’s just a money game. The solution for the homeless mentally ill? Shoot them in the face or lock them away in jail. To wit:
- I contact psychologists for help and diagnosis. They say things like, “Sorry, I’m not taking any more clients” or “Sorry, you don’t have the right insurance” or “Sorry, cash only.”
- I contact housing alliances. They say things like, “Sorry, you need to be referred from Western State Hospital” or “Sorry, you need to have an active addiction” or “Sorry, your income is way too low for our low cost housing” or “Sorry, the intake coordinator is out. Just leave your name and number and he’ll get back to you as soon as he can” or “Sorry, no vacancies” or “Sorry, you have to put your name on the waiting list which, by the way, is 9 years long” or “Sorry, you have to be 62 years old” or “Sorry, you have to be a veteran” or “Sorry, you have to be a client at Such and Such Clinic, but when you contact Such and Such Clinic, they say sorry, we’re not taking any more clients till the fall.”
- I contact hospitals for tests for my mental condition so I can help from the state’s Developmental Disability Association, but they say, “Sorry, your insurance won’t pay for the exam” or “Sorry, our waiting period is about a year due to staff cuts or whatever” or “Sorry, we have no more beds” or “Sorry, you need a referral from one of our allied psychiatrists, and naturally, you then find out their allied psychiatrists aren’t taking on any new clients for a year or don’t take your insurance anyway.”
And they wonder why people give up and just go live on the street or commit crimes just to get in out of the cold. It’s sad, really, especially in a city as prosperous as Seattle. My goodness. The world-renowned Seattle Seahawks live here. The richest corporations (Boeing, Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft) in the world and their CEO’s live here. We have football and basketball stadiums, concert halls, skyscrapers, the world famous University of Washington, the fastest growing tech sector in the nation and some of the most expensive real estate in the land. And we have the extreme poor and mentally ill living under bridges and in cars. Shame. On. Seattle.
Yay! This is something I’d been meaning to do for years but was often sidelined by depression. ‘Commoner the Vagabond’ is a novel about the trials and tribulations of a homeless man with Asperger’s Syndrome who gets into frequent trouble with the law. His vindication comes in when a TV show about his exploits become popular and he becomes the darling of the downtrodden in his hometown of Seattle.
No, the book isn’t about me, but as they say, write what you know, right? Right now it’s available on Kindle, but hopefully, there’ll be a paperback edition in the future.
In other news, I started creating the chapters for my new book which I plan to call “Homelessness 101: A Clown’s Guide To Survival”. I was going to write it with my homeless friend Travis but he just returned home to his family in the Midwest. I guess I’ll go this one alone. It’ll be more a book of humor than an actual survival guide. That means I’d like illustrations galore. I can attempt that but it’d be better if a professional artist did it as I’m only so-so in that department. I should have “101” finished in about 2-3 months so I’ll start looking for an illustrator pretty soon.
That’s true, too. There are many ways being poor and homeless is preferable to having a job and a home. Let me count the ways:
- Job worries. I probably lost the hair on my head because I worried if I’d get fired and not be able to pay the rent. We know that you don’t have to do anything bad at work to be fired. People are let go every day because of downsizing, outsourcing, getting older, etc., all conditions outside of anyone’s control. And of course, there are those of use who are prone to saying the wrong things at the most inopportune moment in front of the wrong supervisor and get let go because of that. These days, belief in certain religions or ideologies can get you the axe, too.
- Transportation worries. Just getting to work in the morning can be an unending nightmare for a lot of people. It’s bad enough that you have to deal with Jetsons-like traffic; you often have to contend with road rage and those who simply don’t respect the rules of the road. I swear. Every time I get in my car here in Seattle I feel like it’ll be my last time behind the wheel. Aurora Avenue has a 40mph speed limit but people zoom up and down it at 60mph routinely. Some streets with schools have speed bumps or warning lights that say “20mph when light is on.” Not everyone respects that. I’ve seen people driving past stopped school buses with their stop signs sticking out in the road. The common mantra in Seattle is, “Outta my way! I’m coming through!” When I lived in Manhattan I kept my nursing job in Far Rockaway which took me 2 hours to get to during the week and 2 1/2 hours on Sundays. Ridiculous. A complete waste of 4/5 hours every day just for money to pay the rent. I should’ve just lived in a car. Ever slept in one during a rainstorm? The pitter patter of those drops on the roof lulls you into a coma. It does me, anyway.
- Home worries. You’re sleeping soundly in your warm, fluffy bed and suddenly the neighbor’s tree falls through your roof, or grandma comes driving through the living room because her gas pedal got stuck, or a fuselage from a passing jet falls through the kitchen, or a burglar/rapist is breaking in through the basement window, or some kid slips on the ice on your driveway and breaks his leg, or bullets come flying in through your bedroom window because the neighbourhood thugs mistook you for someone else, or your landlord sends you a mail one day that says, “In two months your rent will be raised by $200”, or that dreaded “Your house has been bought by the bank” letter finally arrives, or the toilet backs up again during the latest rainstorm and now you have half of your neighbors’ poop floating around in the muck in your bathroom, or that black mold you’d meant to get rid of in the bedroom made your asthmatic cousin as sick as a dog, or those dagnabbit locusts are back to eating your house, or the roof flips right off during a hurricane (this happened to us in Trinidad), or that front porch camera fails to show you the face of the jerk who stole your mail or peed in your gardenias.
- Freedom worries. When you’re chained to a job, chained to the kids, chained to a mortgage or rent, chained to a wife, chained to your car notes how much freedom do you really have? You’ve gotta pay $4 for that gallon of milk or the baby will starve. You’ve gotta pay $4 for that gallon of gas or you and your family will starve. You’d love to take the kids to the movies more often, or to Disneyland, or Universal Studios Hollywood, or the zoo but sometimes you have to make a choice between entertainment and food. Tough choice. Personally, I choose both, and yes, both costs me nothing. I eat at food banks and read books in libraries. This laptop, my main source of entertainment, I got at a discount. I just had to prove I’m poor. Easy enough. I get food stamps and Medicaid because I’m crazy. Actually, it’s ABD – Aged, Blind & Disabled. That’s kinda long so I prefer crazy.
- Medical worries. Really contentious debate here in the good ol’ US of A. You have a little bit of money saved. Should you spend it on that new Xbox you’ve been eyeing or that tooth extraction you’ve been avoiding for years? New pants or new glasses? Antibiotics or tumor removal? Beer or cough drops? You’d sure love to have that way overdue physical exam done but you should probably spend the little change you have on a pain reliever or headache medicine rather than a bus trip across town. And what about that body rash you just inherited from the latest clothes detergent you just tested? The cable bill is due, the light bill is due, the phone bill is due but the rash is driving you crazy so maybe an emollient is in order. No? You decide.
Without a doubt, Seattle has to be one of the most giving cities I’ve ever been in. There are churches and centers where the poor and homeless can eat a hot meal every day. The food pantry I frequent is so stocked with items that they offer you extra. “Go ahead. It’s going to waste anyway,” you’ll hear the volunteers say. Through DSHS I also belong to the Housing & Essential Needs (HEN) Program. In addition to taking care of your rent they also supply you with toiletries. L.A, by contrast, was a lousy place to be homeless. The food was an aberration. The shelters were pits of horror. The social services programs were jokes. It wasn’t so bad in Rhode Island. At least they had the Welcome Arnold shelter for people to stay in. Nashville was okay, but if you wanted help, you had to bend over backwards to religion. In Seattle, you don’t have to pray to anything to get help. They may work under the auspices of the Catholic Church but they don’t force religion down your throat like they do in Nashville. On a darker note, this winter finds me in a state of constant depression. I don’t feel like jumping off a bridge, though. I’m in limbo right now regarding Disability, but other than that, I guess I’ll be okay.