Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Another Day in Belltown

This morning I arrived to work at a bit before 8 to find a vendor waiting on the sidewalk and someone huddled under a ratty light blue blanket sleeping in our doorway. A puddle of urine spread from the right side of our storefront across the sidewalk.

The vendor pointed. "Guy peed on the building. That's fucked up."

I looked at the sleeping bundle. "He's reduced to sleeping in doorways in November. It's hard for me to get real worked up over some pee. Maybe I'm just used to it."

"Yeah," said the vendor. "But it's still fucked up."

We both stood looking at the blanket. It wasn't moving. Well-worn work boots were nestled between the sleeping man and the doorway. I thought about what it must be like. Needing to pee in the cold dark. All your stuff is there. Do you pack up everything and head to an alley, or do you just pee a few feet away and go back to sleep?

Tough call.

"You know," I said, "Belltown's like everywhere else. They're gearing up to hire private security to drive people like this guy away."

"Yeah. I'm coming to the overnight encampment on Wednesday," said the vendor. "The last issue had three great articles on this stuff. That was great. I hope the police don't mess with us."

"It's not really in the City's interest," I said, "But you never know. We're ready if they do."

The vendor smiled. "I remember going to Colman School with SHARE, cutting the lock to the gate with bolt cutters. The cops were there in force. Holding their big clubs. They gave us a half hour to clear out before arresting everyone."

This was during the period when the City was pushing pack hard on SHARE's tent city in Seattle. If I remember correctly, it was after the El Centro encampment, where the City threatened to fine the community organization for each day they allowed SHARE's camp on their property. El Centro director Roberto Maestes stood on principle and let the camp stay.

"That was before Trinity United Methodist pushed back hard," I remembered. When SHARE's tent city went to the church in Ballard, Reverend Rich Lang reframed the issue as a matter of church and state, and stood up to the City's new strategy of intimidating host organizations.

Afterwards the Tent City migrated to Saint Mark's in Capitol hill. The faith community rallied around the campers' right to survival, the press turned on the City's hard-ball tactics, and SHARE won the right to a peripatetic Seattle encampment largely free of City harassment.

The vendor smiled at the memory. "Scott was always trying to get us arrested," he said. "We stood up to those fuckers."

The faith community stood up for homeless people too, and it made all the difference. My vendor friend beamed at the memory.

"I need to get some work done." I turned to the doorway, unlocking the top bolt and then the bottom.

"Hey," I said. "I'm just going to step over you." The blanket stirred slightly. I lifted my feet high to cross the threshold, and gently closed the door.

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