Locals call the restaurant and shop area on Alaskan Way “the aqueduct.” The street is lined with businesses such as Red Robin, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, and ferry services which shuttle tourists to and from Bainbridge Island.
To the less fortunate, this area is called home along with other spots across Seattle that provide shelter from the cold and wet weather after the sun sets and the strip closes for the night. These are the people who were unable to get into the many homeless shelters that are found throughout the city.
Many shelters have entrance requirements such as passing drug and alcohol screenings, background checks, and sex offender checks. Those who do not fit the bill find themselves put back onto the streets to fend for themselves.
The Union Gospel Mission Men’s Shelter has room for 209 people per night, which includes 104 homeless people that are part of their residential recovery program, a program created to help those suffering from substance abuse find long-term solutions to attaining a better life.
Among other services, this specific shelter offers occupation counseling, spiritual guidance, and programs specifically designed for women and children. They have staff on duty 24-hours a day to receive donations and to aid in emergency intakes when they have the room.
Late at night a “Search & Rescue” van patrols the streets handing out blankets, food, and clothing to those that are camping in doorways. There are anywhere between 10 and 20 people standing outside of the Mission’s doors on 2nd Avenue, hoping they will be let in or wandering with no place else to go.
If you come back to Alaskan Way after the businesses close, it is painfully obvious that it is not enough to take care of those in need. On Saturday night, two brothers were huddled together with their dog hiding in the bushes under the overpass below the Pike Place market.
“We’ve been homeless for about two and a half years now – only in Seattle for about a year,” the oldest said. His youngest brother claimed to be 18, but it he was obviously far younger. The two had been hiding from the police that force them out of the area during the day.
A coalition of approximately 10 superheroes from Seattle, Portland and Vancouver (Canada) spent close to 18 hours on Saturday handing out food, hygiene supplies, and provisions to the needy which included the two brothers. They pointed out various encampments throughout Seattle where people had been taking shelter.
One such place was under the 6th and Cherry street overpass where at least 30 people were under blankets, sleeping bags, and ponchos. Their possessions were cluttered together in piles of various sizes which indicated how long they had been there.
The encampment was inhabited by those who were sober and those who were obviously not. There was a married couple who found themselves homeless within the past few weeks after they had been evicted. Underneath an American flag, two veterans shared a spot where they racked out for the night.
For two hours, the group of super volunteers unloaded supplies from a minivan and conversed with the inhabitants. Skyman, a native of Seattle, had prepared almost 100 bundles that he called “Sky packs” which contained 2 puddings, a granola bar, two pairs of socks, and hygiene items.
Knight Owl, a superhero from Portland, gave medical attention to a man whose hands were badly injured while defending his possessions from a gang that frequently raids their shelters.
“They come in the night as we’re going to sleep to steal our things,” one of the homeless said. He describes a group of 8 or 9 men that rob and attack them on nearly a nightly basis. He added that “many of the people here can’t get into a shelter because they don’t pass the drug tests.”
The people under the overpass pointed out that it is hard for many of them to stay clean because of a white van that comes by selling drugs. “Those who are struggling with their sobriety find themselves unable to say ‘no,’” commented Thanatos, one of the superheros from Vancouver, Canada.
A spokesperson from the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness said stories like this are all too common. People are assaulted and what little they have is taken from them, sometimes by the people that they share the same space with. “More needs to be done to help them, we just need the resources to get the job done,” the volunteer said.
As federal and state resources shrink, many of these shelters are relying heavily on the donations from their local communities. With a shrinking economy, outreach programs are finding themselves with less and less to work with.