Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Learning From the Treeman

Mike Lewis' Seattle PI story yesterday about David Csaky, the treeman of Eastlake Ave., made me very sad and very happy. I love that this man exists. I love that he has found creative ways to survive and carve out spaces that become his own. I love that he lives with the animals and makes good friends with squirrels. I love that his neighbors like him, want him around, and care whether he's happy. I love that a reporter took this amazing story and did it justice. I love that just as the City is about to release their new policy on homeless encampments, we have a poster-child for Homeless People Who Should Be Left Alone.

I'm sad that desperate people have to make their homes in the out of the way spaces where no one else goes. I'm sad that this man, who is bothering no one, can't just be left alone. I'm sad that this man, who has built something of which he is deservedly proud, is going to have it taken away. I'm sad that there is so little room in this world for the David Csaky's. Those who don't bend to the world the way it is. Who don't fit our ideas of how people should live and be.

"I'm tired," he said. "I just want to be left alone. I'm not hurting anyone."

Csaky was basically screwed from birth. Mom was a whore and dad was a drunk. Foster homes. Unemployment. Bare survival. For a time, he climbed into the lower rungs of the working class, but a few major setbacks later he lost his grip and it was back to the underclass. The invisible many, who drop out of the bottom into the shelters and prisons and jails and ghettos and all the other spaces the rest of us seldom see.

That's lesson one. People who have lived lives of pain and trauma need a lot more than a job offer and a clean shirt to bounce back. And as a society, we're not offering. Mainly, we're making things worse.

His neighbors want him around. He looks over the neighborhood and makes things safer. People like him. But one complaint was lodged, and the city is evicting. It doesn't make sense.

That's lesson two. Poor people will do what they must to survive, and given that the system has and continues to fail them in a colossal way, it should at the very least just leave them alone when they're not bothering anyone.

Social workers came by on Friday to tell Csaky that he'd get 48 hours notice Monday to leave the home he'd built with his own hands and the community that had embraced him. He was offered shelter he can't use and treatment he doesn't need.

Lesson number three. Offers of help that come with a great big stick in the other hand are unlikely to be well-received. There is probably some solution that would work for the man in the tree, but no one took the time to talk to him about what that might be.

The message to David Csaky was not "we're here to help." The message was "go away."


Bill said...

The City is giving Squirrel Man ten more days, with promises of shelter, etc., which lately is the City's bus ticket out of town on every issue. They have said the same things about solving the encampment issue. Straight from Tim Ceis,.."more shelters." Will we see them? No. Time will pass, and the City figures we will all forget, or that the public will stop watching. Buy time by the cosmic complacency of the electorate. What is being missed is that there was 1 complaint to move squirrel man, and lots of neighbors who loved his being there. Why does it take just 1 complaint? If that is so, I complain that Greg Nickels is Mayor of Seattle!!!! Will Seattle DOT please recycle him and all his baggage, bags only

Pastor Rick said...

Now I have the first good idea of the day.

Let us run the Squirrel Man for Mayor of Seattle!

Campaign slogan: "He can deal with all the nuts in the city!"

Somebody, start making buttons right now.

Anonymous said...

People keep saying "Oh, he wasn't bothering anyone..." while then complaint.

Maybe they mean he's not bothering "anytwo"?

Or not bothering anyone...who really matters?

Cities require that people live in structures which mean the building and sanitation code, and this one doesn't. Plus, it's not on land that he had permission to build on. Someone complains, and the laws kick in.

Sally said...

"Cities require that people live in structures that meet the building and sanitation code" -- really? Do you think that cities should mandate that properly-built, approved structures must be there for everyone to live in? Probably not. Then you must mean that those people who are left out, who can't find such structures, can't expect to be allowed to live at all, anywhere. You and the City of Seattle seem to be in agreement. Congratulations on the company you keep.

"Uta" Urban said...

Squirrel Man wins. Media wins.

CNN story on squirrelman

Anonymous said...

For years as a case manager in a public mental health setting I was frustrated in my attempt in getting my disorganized, usually very charming and intellegent clients off the streets. The King County Mental Health Professionals would tell me that there is no law against being dirty and living on the streets. So with the warm heart of respecting individual civil liberties I had to walk away. My strong heart full of faith and understanding and belief in the diginty of the individual would grow a little icier. It has been too cold out for too long. You don't make me feel as if it is going to get any warmer anytime soon.