A few days ago, along my morning commute, I encountered Joe. As I granted his request for money, I spent a few minutes talking to him. Joe appears to be in his late 40s to early 50s. He was friendly and coherent and easy to talk to. I explained to Joe that I’ve been wanting to do a little writing about the transient (Joe said “homeless, transient, hobo. Whatever you want to call it” but I can see he prefers the term transient) people in Seattle and asked his permission to write a little about him. He was happy to tell me a little bit about himself but did not wish to have his picture included in my post.
Joe has been homeless in Seattle for about a year and a half. He’s alone. He said he used to work but lost his job. His wife left him for another man. He has a 21 year old son who lives in Connecticut.
Joe is an addict. He left this part out of his story until I explained to him why I’m interested in his story and why I write my blog. When he heard that I have children who have drug addictions he was anxious to share that part of his life with me. I think so many are ashamed of the judgement they’ll receive for being an addict. Ironic, I know. He is a homeless man on the streets asking for food but still ashamed of his addiction. Joe said he was a crack addict and had used illegal substances for almost 30 years. I wish we had jumped straight to that part of his story in the beginning because my driver was waiting and I had to leave. He told me he’d be there again the next day and I have looked for him every day since then, hoping to continue our conversation, but we have not crossed paths again.
This morning, my Uber driver was commenting on the homeless situation. His take on it is that we should be able to house these people, give them food and shelter and counseling, with tax payer dollars. It does seem like we should be able to do that. I think much of the issue though is that some people want that kind of help, and some don’t. Joe wants that kind of help. Joe said to me that the hardest part about being homeless is not having access to a restroom. He said “People just need to go the bathroom and there’s nowhere to go.” If all of the homeless/transients out there were like Joe, fixing the problem would be easier. Unfortunately, they are not all like Joe. Many of them are in active addiction. When an addict is given $10 and the choice to spend it on food or drugs, they’ll usually choose the drugs. Getting their fix becomes the most important thing in their lives. It takes priority over food, shelter, family, and everything else. It consumes and controls them. How can we aid these people? How can we provide for their basic needs without enabling their addictions? I feel like, if we could find a way to do that, people like Joe could be given a second chance in life.
Life would be easier if the issue was more black and white.