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."