The Red Rose

This morning, I worked in the Greenbelt for a short time. At one point, I was standing about fifteen feet from the Hanford stairs, which are on the north end of the property. As I glanced towards the stairs, I saw a homeless man whom I haven’t talked to for a year or two. I believe he lives with a few friends in a different part of the Greenbelt, about six blocks from where I was standing.

I used to do a lot of litter pick up in this area and I had talked with him numerous times when he and his friends were hanging out on the stairs. They used to point out places where I could find cans to pick up and sometimes they even saved some for me.

Today, we saw and acknowledged each other at the same time. He started to talk to me but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He gestured to the planting areas and I told him that we were working to make the land a forest again.

After I answered his question, he handed me a red rose. I was so surprised and had no idea where it came from. It was as if the rose materialized out of thin air. Without a word, he continued walking up  the stairs. What a beautiful way it was to start my day.

In Hindsight Was It A Mistake?

mistake-clipart-Mistakes

The directions for this week’s Dungeon Prompt were:

All of our mistakes have made us into the people that we are today, and so this is not meant to be an exercise in regret, but rather a fun look back with the thought, “that was maybe not such a great idea.”  Tell us about a past exploit of your younger, less wise self.

It only took seconds for me to know what I would be sharing!

I moved from Florida to Washington State in 1966 to go to a conservative Christian school named Seattle Pacific College. Months before I arrived, the administration had granted students the privilege of being able to go to movie theaters. The school still had rules against wearing pants on campus, except on Saturdays, and they didn’t allow students to play cards, dance, or drink alcohol.

I believe it was sometime early in 1968 when I decided to become a volunteer at the First Avenue Service Center.  That was a place where the homeless men and women from “skid row” could wash their clothes, bathe and have a place to hang out during the day.

I have no memory of how I found the Center but I loved being there. I talked with the people who frequented it and tried to bring some light into their days.  I played a lot of pinochle with them even though I knew my college would not approve; pinochle was a major past-time for those who gathered at the Center.  At some point, I wrote a letter to my mother saying something along the line of “Oh mom, I am meeting so many interesting people. I am getting to know ex-cons, drug addicts, drag queens, and prostitutes!”

I was very surprised when my mother wasn’t as excited about my adventure as I was. In fact, she told me she would be sending me a plane ticket home! I had no intention of leaving Seattle or the Center. While I don’t remember what happened next, since I never received the plane ticket, she must not have followed through on her threat. And I didn’t leave the Center.

My involvement with those people was not confined to my volunteer time.  I would hang out with some of them outside of the Center as well.  At one point, I started dating a young man who was a heroin addict. I was madly in love with him and did everything I could to spend time with him. To his credit, and my luck, he never asked me to get high with him. I had no interest in using any kind of drugs even though it was the 60’s. I just loved hanging out with him. I was so co-dependent though. If he wanted me to drive him somewhere I did it. I remember being so eager to see him that I drove back to Seattle non-stop after I had finished a summer job in New Mexico. The first thing he did upon my arrival was ask me to drive him to Portland … then … and I did it.

I didn’t know anything about co-dependency in those days, I just knew I was meeting fascinating people and my life was full of adventure. He eventually lost interest in me and took off.  Looking back, I believe that he never considered me to be his girlfriend.  I think I was mainly a chauffeur and he let me tag along at other times.

In hindsight, was it wise for a naive 19 or 20 year old to be volunteering at a place like that? Was it appropriate for me to be hanging out with “ex-cons, drug addicts, drag queens and prostitutes” outside of the Center?  Was my “dating” a heroin addict a mistake? I would answer “No” to all of those questions, although I have to admit as I am writing this blog post, I am wavering on those answers a bit.

Would I want my daughter to have the experiences I had?  I’d answer “Yes” in regards to some of them, but definitely not to all of them. I put myself into some very dangerous places and painful situations. Did I make mistakes?  Yes I did, but I learned from them.  And as Sreejit said in the prompt directions, everything that happened during that period of my life contributed to making me the person I am today.

I still remember a few of the people I met in those days. And the lessons I learned then allow me to do a much better job of keeping myself safe now. I also have a lot more compassion for my mother than I did at that time. I can certainly understand why she would react to my letter by telling me she would be sending me a plane ticket home!

Later in my life, I met my spiritual teacher, Amma.  When I asked her for a spiritual name she named me Karuna.  Karuna means compassion.  I think that my sense of compassion and my adventurous spirit really blossomed and came to fruition during the year or so I volunteered at the First Avenue Service Center.  I don’t have any regrets.

Photo Credit:  Clipart Panda

Tent Cities in Seattle/King County

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On January 24, 2014 there were 9294 homeless people men, women and children in Seattle/King County.

  • 3132 slept on the streets
  • 2906 were in shelters
  • 3265 were in transitional housing

How can so many be homeless in this city/county?  The following facts certainly give some big hints:

  • As of October, 2014, average apartment rent within 10 miles of Seattle, WA was $1694/month. One bedroom apartments rent for $1402/month on average and two bedroom apartments rent for an average of $1945/month.
  • I couldn’t find the average cost for renting a house but I saw listings that ranged from $1450 to $6700/month.
  • Prices for buying a house have skyrocketed.  Average purchase prices for 2014 are:

 1 bedroom     $249,975
2 bedrooms   $392,000

3 bedrooms   $470,000
4 bedrooms   $599,000

  • Unemployment is 5%.  That does not include the underemployed or people have given up looking for work.
  • Minimum wage is $9.32 an hour.  Working full-time, a person would earn $372.8/week or $1491.20/month.
  • The lack of affordable housing in the city makes it extremely difficult to move people out of homelessness rapidly and the longer people are homeless the more difficult it is to house them.
  • The citizens of Seattle have to pass a housing levy to fund homeless services. The levy lasts seven years before it needs to be renewed. While this is a potential problem, the levy has been renewed four times during good times and bad.  This is a testament to the city’s commitment to the homeless.

There are City of Seattle and King County programs which help the homeless find shelter and food.  Many churches and missions also devote a great deal of time and resources to this endeavor.  In addition, numerous churches are now allowing homeless people who own cars to park in their parking lots at night.

While I could present a lot more information about the shelters and the feeding programs, I’m going to limit most of my focus to the tent cities.  (Know that these communities are set up in a way that allows their residents to have some degree of privacy, so I took most of my pictures from a distance.)

The Seattle Housing and Resource Effort and Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League (SHARE/WHEEL) set up the first tent cities in 1990.  Over time the first two disbanded but Tent City #3 and #4 are still active.  The early tent cities had to move every 3 weeks to 3 months.  Now they are allowed to stay in one place for six months, and an additional six month extension is sometimes possible.

Tent City #3 is currently located near the freeway entrance at NE 64 Street and 8th Avenue NE.  They are able to shelter up to 100 residents.

Tent City #4  is now hosted by the Redmond Family Church in Redmond, Washington.  It serves 80-100 people.

In 2008, a group of homeless people set up a group of pink tents that had been donated by the Girl Scouts.  Mayor Greg Nickles had them evicted three days later; twenty people were arrested in the process.  In protest, the camp was named Nicklesville!  The group has moved 20 times over the years.  After disbanding for a year, they were recently given a new Seattle location at 1010 S. Dearborn.  Approximately 80 people are living there now.

In addition to the tent cities, there are individual tents scattered throughout the city.  It is not unusual to see them on a street, under a freeway, or in the forested areas of the city.  I was recently told that a group of homeless men and women had set up a camp on the sidewalk of the park that borders the King County Courthouse.  When I checked it out I noticed people were also sleeping on the sidewalk.

May the day come when everyone in the world has both adequate food and shelter.

Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

May all beings in the world live in peace
Peace, Peace, Peace

Crocheted Afghans for the Homeless

In 2004, Seattle Amma satsang members joined together to make crocheted afghans for men and women who were moving from the streets into transitional housing.  The afghans were all made from scrap yarn.  Each of us crocheted as many squares as possible and then we mixed and matched the squares to create the beautiful blankets.

Here are pictures of some of the afghans we made:

This project was inspired by a group called Warm Up America.

Judgment or Compassion?

There are a lot of homeless people living in  Seattle, especially in the Green Belt, a forested area, part of which is located near my home. There are times when I strike up a conversation with them or at least smile as we pass by each other on the sidewalk.

I really notice the difference between my behavior in those situations and when I am approached by a panhandler in a parking lot or near the entrance to a grocery store. Continue reading “Judgment or Compassion?”