It’s difficult to understand the homeless when you don’t interact with them, said Shoko Uchida, SPSCC diversity intern from the Evergreen State College. Their voices need to be heard, said Uchida.
“We live in a society that is constantly pushing things away that aren’t familiar,” said Lome, a homeless 23 year old, who didn’t provide his last name. People are afraid to leave their comfort zone.
People cast snide and hateful looks at Alex, a homeless individual who didn’t provide his last name. He wishes Olympia would show “more hospitality and generosity.”
South Puget Sound Community College student Mayahuel Weisser, believes the public’s general approach is to ignore the homeless.
Tymer Furlan, born in Massachusetts, describes his situation as “residentially challenged.”
“I lost everything when I was 20 years old, I buried my fiancé,” said Furlan, now 50. People don’t realize how easily things disappear, they could be in my position tomorrow, homeless and on the streets, said Furlan.
He occasionally stays at the Salvation Army.
“Businesses yell at the homeless in downtown Olympia for just sitting,” said Suebob, a homeless individual who didn’t provide his last name. “They won’t allow us to use their restrooms either because they think we’re dirty. People think we’re junkies because we live outside, I don’t even do drugs.”
Jeff Bond, an SPSCC student, has volunteered for Olympia’s homeless through missions such as the Union Gospel. He has heard from homeless individuals that the Olympia police department mistreats those on the streets.
According to Lome, police can be “hard-nosed.”
In 2005 and 2006, “Downtowners,” a documentary about Olympia homeless youth, was directed and produced by Jessica Eskelson and Nichole Ketcherside. The documentary discusses a wide range of the issues facing the homeless, including mistreatment from police.
There isn’t a place that a person can legally sleep outside unless you go to a camp ground, said an Olympia police officer to a homeless youth in the documentary.
“Go out to Lacey or Tumwater, they don’t have quite the issue we have.”
“What problem do you have here?” asked the homeless youth.
“Being overrun by homeless people that like to pitch camps anywhere that they feel,” said the policeman.
After attempting to sleep behind 5th Avenue Fitness, Marty Linzy, a homeless person, was told to leave several times by local police.
“I sleep outside and 5th Avenue Fitness is the only place to be dry,” said Linzy.
Bond believes some homeless people choose the streets. It’s their way of life and in some cases the only life they’ve known.
“Human beings are meant to be nomads,” said Lome.
Suebob became homeless at 15 years old. He left his unhealthy home life and began traveling. Suebob has a 10-year old career in train jumping from one place to the next.
Many homeless people travel and just pass through Olympia. Suebob expects to leave in the next few days. Alex gets anxious if in one place for too long.
“I like to meet new people,” said Alex.
Many of the homeless Bond has interacted with have dealt with mental illness. According to the 2010 Thurston County Homeless census, over 40 percent are mentally ill. Linzy said he struggles with mental illnesses such as anxiety.
Furlan and John, a homeless individual who prefers not to reveal his last name, explained how people living on the streets self-medicate. They drink and do drugs to numb the emotional and physical pain. According to the 2010 Thurston County homeless census, 11 percent had alcohol and/or drug problems.
They also use drugs in order to avoid hypothermia, said John. Stimulant drugs keep the body awake and moving.
The 2011 Thurston County homeless census is still incomplete. In April Schlecht said the County staff had yet to enter their data into the census forms adding to the delay. It also appears the county staff is still working with Washington’s new low-functioning database.
The Homeless Housing and Assistance Act of 2005 (RCW 43.185C) requires counties in the state of Washington to progressively eliminate homelessness. Thurston County has taken part in a statewide homeless census each year at the end of January called Point-in-Time census.
Thurston County was searched high and low thanks to this year’s record number of 200 volunteers, according to Anna Schlecht, the housing program manager for the City of Olympia. A significant number of homeless did not want to participate however, said Schlecht.