People Have to Live Somewhere

Every single day, I commute past tent encampments for the homeless here in Seattle. When I first came out here, I found this shocking. I came from Jacksonville, Florida, and I had never seen anything quite like this. You’d think the Florida climate would be more amenable to homelessness, but no. The West Coast experiences much more of it than the East Coast does, according to most homeless counts. It disturbs me greatly that I’m getting used to the sight of these encampments. The shock is gone. The sadness remains.

I’ve got a few theories, now, as to why there’s such a difference from one coast to the other. First, of course, is that living out here is about 3 times more expensive than it is in Jacksonville. A lot more of us, here, teeter on the brink of financial ruin. Second, there are fewer places to hide such encampments. While Seattle has a much lower population than Jacksonville, it’s much more densely packed. There are not huge swaths of woods in which one can disappear. Third, I suspect we’re a good deal more tolerant out here. I know for a fact that the Jacksonville police tend to drive people out to the county line and dump them, making them continually walk the 20 or 30 odd miles back to civilization in the oppressive heat, without food or water.

That county line solution is just cruel. People have to live somewhere. Every creature on this planet does. It’s not a homeless problem. It’s a home problem. And it isn’t new.

A friend of mine shared with me this photo of Seattle’s Hooverville from the 1930’s. After reading about it on historylink.org, the amazing free online encyclopedia of Washington state history (specifically here and here), I discovered that this photo only captures about half the shantytown that existed there at the time, and there were others scattered about as well. The conditions were appalling. People built shacks out of whatever they could find. The city burned them down twice before they recognized the futility of it all. People have to live somewhere.

Incidentally, that Hooverville is not far from where Starbucks corporate headquarters now stands. Irony, anyone? And as long as REITS (Real Estate Investment Trusts) are allowed to exist, giving the richest among us the ability to make huge profits from housing, thus artificially inflating rents, this problem will only get worse.

When I get off work at 11pm, on my way home, I often see an old man with a walker standing by the stop sign at the end of my highway exit ramp. He holds a sign that says, “Homeless veteran. Please help.” The cynical side of me thinks about all the stories one hears about people making very good money through panhandling, and the stories about how some people want to be homeless. But this guy… I’ve seen him out there at midnight, in the pouring rain, in 35 degree temperatures. No financial return or lust for a freewheeling life can explain that.

The man needs help. And I feel very inadequate to the task. I couldn’t even help one person for more than a few days. And there are just so many out there. I don’t know what to do.

Sometimes I resent this man. He doesn’t let me forget. He doesn’t give me the peace to drive home to my nice house at the end of my shift and climb into my hot tub and forget.

But then I realize that he probably would like to forget, too.

Seattle Hooverville

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Homesharing

Every once in a while, you stumble upon an absolutely brilliant idea that makes you wonder why no one has thought of it before. It just makes so much sense on so many levels that you know it’s meant to be. That was my thought process when I saw this video.

Imagine this: a 95-year-old woman is living alone in her home after the death of her husband. She’s bored. She’s lonely. She worries that she could fall down and get hurt and nobody would know.

Enter a 27-year-old student who is new to the city and doesn’t know a soul. She, too, is lonely, and money is very tight for her. As we all know, rent in big cities is becoming outrageously expensive. And the more money she saves, the less she will owe in student loans, which is also an increasing problem.

Through a homesharing program, the student lives with the 95-year-old, and pays a reduced rent for the privilege, and now has a quiet place to study. The funds probably help the elderly woman as much as the savings helps the student. They both benefit from the companionship, and they both feel much safer. Best of all, they each make a new friend.

Perfect!

Yes, the student would need a fair amount of vetting. You wouldn’t want some old person being bullied and taken advantage of. But with some administrative oversight, I can see how this could be the ultimate win/win situation.

I think that there should be a homesharing program in every city. If there is an elder advocacy agency of some sort near you, please have them watch this video and then perhaps have them reach out to student housing offices at local universities. This is an idea whose time has come!

hands

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Living in Gingerbread Houses

Now that I live farther from work, and my commute is a typical Seattle nightmare (I had no idea how spoiled I had been!) I have even more time to take flights of fancy. In today’s traffic snarl, this is where my mind went:

What would it be like if we all lived in gingerbread houses?

First of all, neighborhoods would be much more whimsical. That would be fun. And if you woke up hungry at 3 a.m. you could simply reach over and break off a piece of your window sill. But impulse control would definitely be critical to your quality of life.

People who had fallen on hard times would have problems concealing it, because they’d probably start eating their houses for pure survival. And they’d be blamed for their own diabetes.

And you’d see homeless people gnawing on your candy cane fence posts all the time. That might cause an atmosphere of vigilantism. “Hey, you! Hands off my gum drops or I’ll pelt you with life savers!”

And rich people would find a way to corner the market on gingerbread, and tax all jelly beans and pretzels. Only the upper class could get their hands on M & Ms for their roofs. The 98% would have to settle for mini marshmallows, and they sure wouldn’t keep the rain off your head for long.

Even in Candyland, with its sweet foundations, we’d manage to sink to our lowest common denominator.

gingerbread houses

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My Cabinet Dream Team

It really amazes me that Donald Trump has somehow chosen the most destructive and incompetent person for every single position in his cabinet. I mean, that takes talent. Finding the worst possible human being for any job takes effort. You have to sift through a lot of scum to get to the most slimy of dregs.

The other day, while stuck in a traffic jam the likes of which can only happen in Seattle, I entertained myself by coming up with a cabinet dream team. Hey, if sports enthusiasts can do it, why can’t I? I admit this is official proof that I’m a geek. I’m okay with that.

So here’s my fantasy team. I know many of them are no longer living, but since this is a fantasy, why not?

  • Secretary of State— the Dalai Lama. He’s wise. He’s fair. He remains calm. He speaks quietly and people will listen. People respect him. If they don’t respect him, they look horrible.
  • Secretary of the Treasury—Colin Kaepernick. This is a man who recently donated 50K to Meals on Wheels. He also has raised millions to bring food and water to the people of Somalia. If anyone knows what’s truly financially important and how to make it happen, he does. So what if the NFL won’t draft him? They prefer wife-beaters. I wouldn’t hire the NFL.
  • Secretary of Defense—Mahatma Gandhi. It’s about time that we had someone who wasn’t a warmonger in this position, don’t you think?
  • Attorney General—Michelle Obama. She’s a lawyer who is intelligent and capable. She cares about people. She knows how to get her point across. She’s strong, and an excellent role model.
  • Secretary of the Interior—Theodore Roosevelt. Yeah, he liked to hunt, but he created the first national parks on the planet. On. The. Planet. That tells you all you need to know.
  • Secretary of Agriculture—Dan West, founder of Heifer International. This is my favorite charity because it is all about helping others to be able to maintain an agricultural life in a healthy, sustainable way. We need more of this if we’re going to survive.
  • Secretary of Commerce—Jessica Jackley, one of the founders of Kiva.org. This organization teaches us that through microfinance we can lift people up and allow them to help themselves by making it possible for them to have their own small businesses. This is a model we need to emulate.
  • Secretary of Labor—Bernie Sanders. Who else? This is one of the few politicians who actually has dedicated his entire career to giving a shit about people. With Bernie, the unions would be safe, we’d all have a reasonable minimum wage, and he’d work closely with the president to get a single payer health system. What a concept.
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services—Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. A controversial choice, no doubt, but we need to protect Planned Parenthood. And if she were willing to speak out for women at a time when that just wasn’t done, I’m willing to bet she’d also support a single payer health system now.
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development—Martin Luther King Jr. Now, this is a man who would have been horrified at our increasing homelessness and the blight of the inner cities. He’d know how to reach people and speak the truth to them.
  • Secretary of Transportation—Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’d rather create a Secretary of Universal Exploration position for this amazing man, but barring that, this would be a good place for him. He’d look at Transportation in a scientific way. He’d encourage green options. He’d think outside the box. He’d support NASA and promote it as the transportation of our future. And we’d all probably have hovercraft in no time.
  • Secretary of Energy—Al Gore. Jeer if you want, republicans, but this man has been warning us about Global Warming since long before most of us knew what it was. And now that the vast majority of us are coming to our senses and seeing its devastation firsthand, it’s about time we let him get to work on it. We need green technology. We don’t need coal and pipelines.
  • Secretary of Education—Malala Yousafzai. Now, here’s a young woman who risked her life to go to school. She knows the value of education. And she’s another one who is so respected that anyone who opposed her would look like a jerk.
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs—Al Franken would cut to the chase. He would come up with common sense solutions to support our veterans. He wouldn’t go for doublespeak or foolishness and he’s not easily intimidated.
  • Secretary of Homeland Security—Jon Stewart. Here’s a man that does not bullshit anyone. He has boundless common sense. He wouldn’t be swayed by fear mongers. He wouldn’t be focusing on a freakin’ wall and certainly wouldn’t be trying to tear already heavily vetted immigrant families apart.

So there you have it. My dream team. I would love to see what would happen in this country with these diverse, intelligent people at the helm! What a refreshing change it would be. Discuss below!

Cabinet

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Shipping Container Chic

No doubt about it. Seattle is booming. The city bird should be the construction crane. Despite the astonishing number of buildings being erected, contractors can barely keep up with the housing demand.

Because of this, landlords know they can basically charge whatever they like in rent. According to Rent Jungle, as of May 2015, the average apartment rent within 10 miles of Seattle was $1853. One bedroom apartments rent for $1501 on average, and two bedroom apartment rents average $2015 per month.

This, to me, is obscene, but it gets worse. Since it obviously is quite profitable to own apartment buildings in this town, they’re cropping up like mushrooms overnight. And they’re being built as cheaply as possible, with little or no regard for aesthetics.

There’s an architectural trend in this city that I like to call “Shipping Container Chic” because these buildings look like your basic metal shipping containers, stacked one on top of the other, and the apartments themselves have about that much charm. And half the time no allowances are being made for parking, which is adding to Seattle’s gridlock.

The proliferation of this style means that this city is getting uglier by the minute, but apparently that’s okay, because, by God, it’s profitable. If this keeps up, the whole area will harken back to Communist era housing, with a little bit of colored paint thrown in as an afterthought. What ever happened to style and variety? Ugh.

Shipping5 Shipping Shipping3

Balconies

Here’s a big secret: It doesn’t rain in Seattle nearly as much as its residents would have you believe. I have no idea if it’s a global climate change thing or we have all been the victims of a major misinformation campaign to prevent crowding, but if you’re not getting to know this amazing city because you’re afraid of getting wet, don’t worry about it.

In fact, I think the weather is much nicer here than it ever was when I lived in Florida. I spend a great deal of time outside enjoying it. Being outdoors here is a delight.

So here’s what I don’t get. People in this town pay a premium for balconies. Well, actually, all housing here costs an arm and a leg, but if you want a balcony, it will cost you an additional limb. So why don’t they ever use them?

I pass thousands of balconies every day on my way to work and while out and about running errands, and never, not even once, have I seen a single human being on one. There are chairs (wishful chairing?), but no signs of life. If it weren’t for the insane amounts of traffic, I’d half be able to convince myself that the rapture had come and gone and I was the only one left in the city. (That’s if I believed in the rapture.)

Where is everybody? Come on, Seattle! Sit on your balconies!

If the people in Pamplona, Spain can do it, so can we! [Image credit: goseewrite.com]
If the people in Pamplona, Spain can do it, so can we!
[Image credit: goseewrite.com]