Getting to Know Seattle: A Private Moment in Public Space

Seattle has quite a homeless problem. Some individuals and families who lack stable shelter live in large semi-permanent tent encampments, or in smaller groupings under highway overpasses. Some just find a semi-sheltered spot where they are more or less alone, like a secondary entrance to a building, and sleep there overnight. My former neighborhood of Belltown had a lot of people sleeping right in the midst of everything, moving from spot to spot.

My new neighborhood is less likely to have singleton overnight sleepers in public spaces, but I was out fairly early on the main drag of our small business district.  I passed a man just getting up from his night’s sleep in an alcove in front of the pharmacy. He was barefoot, his clothes rumpled, his curly hair sticking out wildly in all directions. He was stretching, and yawning. He had very little by way of possessions: a dirty sleeping bag, a small backpack. Moving on would be easy, not cumbersome. His back was to me, and our eyes didn’t meet.

I thought about what a private moment just getting up is. When I get out of bed my short, straight hair is often sticking up in odd directions. I’m barefoot, and a bit creaky on just arising. It takes a few steps on the way to the bathroom for my body to lose its stiffness. I have on a knee-length nightgown, but no underwear. I usually wash and dress before going downstairs, but if I had an early-rising houseguest I might slip on a bathrobe and my Birkenstocks and go down to make coffee first. I wouldn’t expect to perform my awakening rituals in full view of strangers.

The homeless do. The barefoot man didn’t see me as he stretched and lifted up his polo shirt to scratch his lower back. I pretended not to see him.

There’s no public bathroom near where he was sleeping, and I wondered what he was going to do next.

2 thoughts on “Getting to Know Seattle: A Private Moment in Public Space

  1. The American homelessness crisis is a very sad commentary about our mental. Health system and culture. People with mental illness are the most vulnerable and have little voice and declining resources to help them.

  2. for Katie: Seattle is spending millions of dollars on this, and it’s hard to see much improvement. The problems that cause homelessness, as you say, are much deeper than just hauling someone off to a shelter.

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