By Temple Beth Am member Sally Kinney
When I left the house at 2 AM to meet my One Night Count group, it was 27 degrees and frozen hard. When I drove home at 6 AM this morning, it was 30 degrees and a thick icy fog made it almost impossible to see the road. Most of us find it hard to imagine people being outside all night in that weather. But they are and we found them. If we’d counted last week during the snow, we would have found them then, also.
The Mennonite Church in Lake City has for 5 years led a team to walk, drive, and bike the few sidewalks, many more rutted side streets, and several ravines and wooded areas in my neighborhood. This year there were 10 of us, including Jerry DeGrieck, a senior policy advisor to Mayor McGinn. We split up into two groups, spreading out to various areas and coming back together periodically over the two hours we were out. Except for the periods when we didn’t expect to find anyone, we didn’t talk, but communicated with hand signals. By the time we got back to the church, we were so cold that we could hardly stand the heat of the church community room.
In that freezing middle of the night, we found 14 people. Only one was inside a structure: snoring away without a blanket in the relative comfort of an unheated parking garage. Some were walking around, which some homeless people–especially women–find safer to do. One was warming up his car at 3 AM on a stretch of road away from houses. Several were sleeping in covered bus stops. The rest were outside, as vulnerable as eggs without shells.
Fourteen people may not sound like a lot. But consider this: Lake City has a temporary winter shelter–due to close on March 31–operated by Union Gospel Mission. That shelter has had a census lately of 60-65 people. And also this: several years ago, about 25 of Lake City’s resident homeless people got into McDermott Place when it opened due to the tireless efforts of the Mennonites to get them spots. They are no longer living on the street. So in Lake City, a much smaller area than Ballard or just about any other area counted every year, without McDermott Place and, especially, without the temporary shelter, we could have found 75 people. If they allowed themselves to be found, that is; knowing that they will be rousted by the police, some go far enough into the trees that we can’t reach them.
Our Lake City task force will be advocating for the City to maintain a shelter in Lake City when UGM leaves on March 31. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t know where those extra 60+ people will go. But it’s likely they’ll be outside, and it won’t be much warmer than it was tonight.
If you live in Northeast Seattle, please let the Mayor’s Office know that we need a year-round shelter. Let them know that we need to open unused buildings for people to live in. We need safe parking zones where people living in their cars won’t be hounded by tickets and towing. We need any and all places for people to be at night. We hate finding them outside in the cold at 3 AM. I talked Jerry’s ear off when we got back to the church, but I’m just one person. The Mayor’s a good person; he and his staff really care. But he needs “cover”. We were successful in helping the outdoor meals program get time to make future plans. We can do this also.