Today I rounded up the kids, drove to the nearest bus station/park and ride and went to Tacoma. Took us about 30 minutes to get there and the experience was amazing. So many people flocked to the Tacoma Dome’s Exhibition Hall to attend this year’s Project Homeless Connect. What is truly amazing about this event is that not one staff member is paid to be here. Doctors, dentists, vision care providers, mental health specialists, barbers, social service workers, every one a volunteer!
I brought my kids here to get them to see a dentist and for my eldest daughter it would’ve been a nice gift to have her eyes checked because she needs glasses but by the time we got there, they had run out of glasses and closed by 2pm. Tomorrow is her birthday and I’ve got nothing planned. So far, she hasn’t said a thing or complained but I know she’s thinking about it. How couldn’t she when her peers are having sweet 16 parties while she’s worrying about where she’ll end up in the next few months or next year? At least she got her teeth cleaned and sealed by the mobile dental units a free haircut offered by the volunteer hair stylists. At first, she was apprehensive about attending but when it was time to go she smiled at me and said she was glad she went. My cell phone went off and it was the manager of the Public Storage unit. I knew that sooner or later he would be calling with a “friendly” reminder. I let him know I should be coming down sometime this weekend or early next week.
My youngest of course, was amazed to see so many other kids and after taking her to see a dentist, she begged me to take her to the secure childcare center. I took advantage of the free service and wandered the floors talking with various volunteers, looking for members of the team that coordinated the event. I eventually met Ellie Ottey who has been helping coordinate this event for the last four years. She agreed to give me a casual interview and was very gracious in giving me her time but ha! You won’t see the results of our chat until it gets posted on change.org!
I took the opportunity to tell Ellie about wearevisible and InvisiblePeople.tv and about change.org as she had never heard of it. I told her about my situation and why I do what I do and she kept staring at me. I told her I may be homeless but I am not a victim nor will I play the part. Regardless of who has let me down, I am responsible for taking control of where I want my future to be. I may be homeless now, but I am studying for a bachelor’s degree in health services administration. Ellie’s eyebrows went up as she smiled. “You know, with all these doctors in here, I’m sure we can make a connection somehow!” The more I chatted with Ellie I discovered that for the last 20 years, she’s been working in finding housing for people like me! We exchanged information as I told her that I would like to know about anything that comes up in the future that I could write about. It occurred to me that if these volunteers could deliver help to the homeless, and homeless people helping other homeless people via social media, what would happen if the two should …oh I don’t know….come together? And what if, just by talking to people I wouldn’t normally talk to, I just happen to mention wearevisible and InvisiblePeople.tv to those who coordinate events such as Project Connect Homeless? Governmental systems lack the ability to deliver immediate help to those already in crisis. As Ellie so eloquently put it, the project coordinators operate as though they are managing a disaster. In my opinion, people living under bridges or in cars needed help yesterday, not in the obscure future wasting precious time on waiting lists and false hopes.
As I’ve often said before, it always seems that I am led to other people and today it happened again. While waiting for the #574 to Federal Way, I met two homeless men on their way to Seattle and a young man with two backpacks standing nearby trying to figure out which bus to take. He approached me and said he had come from Evergreen College in Olympia and was trying to get to Seattle. I told him he might as well follow us since the local buses have to stop at the Federal Way Transit Center. There are buses that will go directly to Seattle. Well when a bus did arrive, he followed us on and so did the two older homeless men behind us. The two men thought they had enough money between them for their fare but turns out the rate is $3.00 a person. I stood up and shoved dollar bills into the meter for them, then paid for my fares for one adult and two youths. We all sat at the front of the bus and as is my way, I started talking to them about where they were going and why. The two older men told me they had come from California and they too were at the Tacoma Dome for Project Homeless Connect. They kept saying thank you and that God would bless me for helping them get to Seattle. One of the men had the appearance of having been roughed up not too long ago and he casually told me that he had been beaten up and robbed of his money. He had been standing with a cardboard sign for hours near the bus station just trying to get a ride back to Seattle. The other man said he only had enough money to get to Tacoma and didn’t really know what he was going to do but he was also trying to pan handle to pay for a bus ride north. Now what’s interesting about all this is that earlier in the day while we were in Federal Way waiting for a bus to take us to Tacoma, a woman who spoke mostly Russian was walking up and down the station trading her bus tickets for cash. I gave her $4.00 and thought nothing of it since she was trading tickets for Metro buses which is different from Community Transit because they are two different counties. I figured I would just use these tickets on the weekend when I head to Seattle. I reached into one of the pockets of my backpack and fished out the bus tickets and handed them to the man who had been beaten and robbed. It wasn’t until the bus drove down the freeway that I realized that we had gotten on an express bus straight to Seattle, no stops in between! As I sat there smiling to myself, I leaned forward and told the young man that he got lucky, he got his wish and we are on a direct route to Seattle. He was trying to find his way to the Starbuck’s on the waterfront because someone was going to pick him up there. We walked with him downtown and I pointed him in the direction he needed to go. He thanked me and went on his way. On the light rail back to Federal Way, I smiled about the day’s events while watching the scenery blur past me through dark windows stained with rain drops. Even though the dull thudding of an impending headache was on its way, I still feel like my day was well spent. Tomorrow is a new beginning and all I can do is greet it.