Photographs show life on street around Capitol Hill and below I-5

Maybe there is something different this year, maybe it’s all the empty storefronts waiting for the start of new construction, or maybe it’s the same as it ever was. With this week’s arctic blast of cold temperatures moving in, there is still a lot of people camping out around Capitol Hill. Images from a project underway around the area only tell part of the story. More on those below.

With the arrival freezing temperatures, there are additional emergency shelters available. The County maintains a roster here. There are also longer-term ways to help. The Stranger is running a star-studded fundraiser to support the Orion Center’s youth shelter work. There are several coat and food drives underway around the neighborhood. We shared this list of feed the hungry volunteer and giving opportunities in the area. Also consider support of Capitol Hill’s Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets in its new 19th/Madison home.

Capitol Hill photographer Tim Durkan is taking pictures and working with a video team to record life on the streets — and below them — in Central Seattle. Below are some of his first “Down and Out” images along with commentary about the people he’s met along the way. You can watch his photography Facebook page for updates on the project.

"Invited back to Ashley's encampment under the freeway, the trail in was filthy, soggy with litter and surrounded by dying sticker bushes. I knew I'd get my 'fall color' shots in this year - just not exactly like this..." (Image: Tim Durkan)

“Invited back to Ashley’s encampment under the freeway, the trail in was filthy, soggy with litter and surrounded by dying sticker bushes. I knew I’d get my ‘fall color’ shots in this year – just not exactly like this…” (Image: Tim Durkan)

Ashley was kind enough to show me her life's belongings inside the handmade tent she kept along side the freeway. As she opened the front - a kitten size, cinnamon colored rat exited her bed roll - and in no hurry... "I feed them cheetos and they keep me company. Sometimes at night they bump around on my legs which can make it hard to fall asleep." A reality not easily imagined for me. (Image: Tim Durkan)

“Ashley was kind enough to show me her life’s belongings inside the handmade tent she kept along side the freeway. As she opened the front – a kitten size, cinnamon colored rat exited her bed roll – and in no hurry… ‘I feed them cheetos and they keep me company. Sometimes at night they bump around on my legs which can make it hard to fall asleep.’ A reality not easily imagined for me.” (Image: Tim Durkan)

Ashley worked hard to clear out the garbage which included condoms, gallon water jugs filled with urine, bike parts and lots of trash. She had even devised a sifter made from a shopping basket to sift out the 'dirty points' (used needles) from under her tent. (Image: Tim Durkan)

“Ashley worked hard to clear out the garbage which included condoms, gallon water jugs filled with urine, bike parts and lots of trash. She had even devised a sifter made from a shopping basket to sift out the ‘dirty points’ (used needles) from under her tent.” (Image: Tim Durkan)

With an open abscess bad enough to smell 10 feet away and his body convulsing badly -I asked shawn if there was anything I could do to help. he was so messed up it was very hard to understand him and in fact, he'd turned down the medic's help just minutes before refusing to go to the hospital. shawn can be very intelligent, friendly and has a great sense of humor for a man in his predicament - just not this night. this night belonged to heroin. (Image: Tim Durkan)

“With an open abscess bad enough to smell 10 feet away and his body convulsing badly -I asked shawn if there was anything I could do to help. he was so messed up it was very hard to understand him and in fact, he’d turned down the medic’s help just minutes before refusing to go to the hospital. shawn can be very intelligent, friendly and has a great sense of humor for a man in his predicament – just not this night. this night belonged to heroin.” (Image: Tim Durkan)

(Image: Tim Durkan)

(Image: Tim Durkan)

Meanwhile, photographer rupeegroupie has been documenting Capitol Hill street campers in the CHS Flickr Pool:


Homeless but not Hopeless, originally uploaded by rupeegroupie.

40 thoughts on “Photographs show life on street around Capitol Hill and below I-5

  1. I really appreciate this thoughtful blog post. We live among these folks, trying to stay true to our compassionate values, yet tuning the hardships out so as to feel okay about ourselves. This reminds me to keep looking and connecting.

  2. OK, I’ll be the hardass here. There is no reason to sleep outside…shelters are available, with just a little effort. Most people camp outside because they don’t want to be subject to shelter rules, including the use of drugs/alcohol.

    And as far as food goes, hot meals are available 3 times a day, 7 days a week.

    Yes, some street people are not mentally sound or otherwise able to take advantage of these services. But for many who camp in our public/private spaces, it’s a choice they make.

    • You are correct to a T. Besides people with a mental disability there are options. And also options that can get you off the street and employed. It may not be the greatest job, but money talks.

    • You’re not a hardass, Calhoun; you’re an abject, stereotyping idiot. Shelters are oft-times more dangerous than the streets. And although a great many of these people may be involved with drugs and alcohol, I would suggest you take a good look at the number of people who hold regular jobs or have other means of support who are heavily dependent upon prescription drugs and/or “a drink at the end of the day.”

      • Well, I knew I would be subject to criticism, but at least I’m not guilty of name-calling, as you are.

        I think it’s a myth that shelters are “dangerous.” They may not be the nicest places, but I have never read even one report of any crime being committed

        • I think like anything else the shelters in Seattle have had their bad periods. However, I think movies that came out in the 80’s and 90’s added to the image of violent felons on parole basically running homeless shelters like a prison ward from other movies. The shelters were intended for temporary services and you had a set amount of time to get your stuff together and get back on your feet. You might be able to get a little more time if you were demonstrating actual progress towards positive goals. If a person doesn’t follow the rules of the shelter, they are refused services and can find themselves again on the streets. Many of the people on the streets are not allowed back in the shelters for several reasons, including drug usage, theft from other clients, or they ran out of time (including extensions).
          You’re never going to end homelessness. It’s impossible. The Lutheran Compass Center alone has been here since the 1920’s.
          Before the words became taboo, “hobo”, “bum”, “tramp”, etc. inferred at times a chosen lifestyle. People for many reasons chose to live off social services expending more energy staying right where they are in life, than if they elected to find something the rest of society found productive.
          Now Seattle provides so many social services to the homeless that even the wind, cold and rain of our Northwest winter won’t keep them away. Also, there are too many people in Seattle whose livelihood depends upon the continuation of raising funds for whatever charity they solicit for. For them, the more homeless in Seattle, the more money they get. It won’t end.
          What’s my point? I’m not sure I have one. I guess I’m just pointing out that the ghost towns across the United States (in much warmer areas as well) are not overflowing with homeless people building their own homes to avoid being marginalized. They are camped out in the cold and rain, next to the freeway overnight with rats until the morning comes and they can get the next social service disbursement.

        • probably because you have never stepped foot into one. Shelters are full of drugs, mental illness, physical and sexual assault. Yes, they are available to anyone who wants to wait in line for hours before the sun goes down. But that doesn’t mean they are easy to get into. Some of the situations are so rough that people choose to sleep outside, rather than be trapped in an unsafe environment.

          Interesting enough, I’ve noticed posts of yours before, and they all seem to be close-minded, one sided and lacking any compassion, Bottom line is, they are people too. You live in a city, and if you’re tired of seeing people on the streets, you’re more than welcome to take your judgmental and uppity attitude to the Eastside where it belong. Have compassion, recognize struggle in those around you, and quit acting like the sun shines out of your ass.

          • “probably because you have never stepped foot into one.” …

            You would be incorrect; I spent a few months in them back in the late 80’s before working my way out.

            …”quit acting like the sun shines out of your ass.”
            Again you are incorrect; it’s only UV light, not the full spectrum.

          • No one is saying that shelters are ideal places, but I think their “dangers” are exaggerated. If it really was all that bad, the media would be all over it…and so far I have not read any such reports.

      • ….”I would suggest you take a good look at the number of people who hold regular jobs or have other means of support who are heavily dependent upon prescription drugs and/or “a drink at the end of the day.””
        I’ll drink to that!

  3. My sympathy for the homeless ends when they start trashing the neighborhood. I have a park right next to me and I know that when homeless folks hang out there, they will almost 100% of the time leave a mess for the rest of us to clean up (empty beer cans, bottles, food wrappers, other more disgusting items…). If they want compassion, they can start by doing something as simple as using the damn garbage can that’s right in the park. But no, they never do. And this is just one small example of the way they trash the neighborhood and city. Don’t even get me started on Cal Anderson Park!

    • You can’t blame our homeless community for all the trash on the streets and in the parks — visiting revelers and your everyday neighborhood millenial should also bare the brunt of your disdain. While I think your frustration is misplaced, and as much as I feel like you’re just a giant turd hiding behind an anonymous handle, I’m going to hold off on being a complete dick and try to extend some empathy your way as I write this: You can’t expect the homeless to play by your rules of cleanliness and pride of ownership or community because we tell the homeless everyday that they’re worthless and don’t belong here — whether it be through words, actions or complete denial. You shouldn’t expect people who rarely get respect to give any back. Personally, I think the best thing we all can do to help improve our community is to help end homelessness and to bring a bit of class consciousness back to Capitol Hill.

      • What are your ideas for ending homelessness? Not trying to be a jerk, honestly curious. It seems to be a pretty hard nut to crack. I don’t have an easy answer myself. It’s frustrating to see people living in squalor right next to shiny, expensive new buildings designed for those with a ton of expendable income.

        I would add that flagrant littering is frustrating no matter who does it. I don’t agree that being homeless gives one a license to just throw things in the street when there’s a trash can feet away. Nor do I believe that those with homes should trash the neighborhood, whether they live here or elsewhere.

        • I just find it mind boggling how you want to fixate on litter when we’re talking about the immediate welfare of fellow human beings. Just to humor you for a moment — why would you expect someone who has no/very little property, no place to call home, no real sense of place in a larger community beyond their homeless tribe, to abide by the same guidelines of cleanliness, community, order, or property that you have? No heat, no walls, very little food, ostracized from society. And… you’re concerned about their littering. It just take a little bit of empathy, man, to see that the things we value shouldn’t be the scale by which we judge others.

          Coming back down to earth for a moment, I too have no solution to end homelessness. But the fight should include anything that may help, and the copy accompanying the images in this post have some good suggestions: Supporting groups that serve the homeless in our area, such as Orion Center and Peace for the Streets. You can also check Idealist for volunteer opportunities. I also do my best, when possible, not to support businesses that accelerate the further, extreme gentrification of the area.

          • Who is fixating? Are you seriously accusing me of having no empathy because I am suggesting that perhaps being homeless doesn’t exempt you from littering laws? What other laws should the homeless be exempt from, in your opinion?

            You are coming across as extremely shrill and judgmental. Read your posts – especially the one calling another poster a “giant turd”. I stand by what I said before. I also understand that we are talking about human beings that are very down on their luck. I applaud the organizations that are trying to combat this problem.

    • I recently noticed that people at an encampment by the freeway took some time to clean up their site and left their rubbish in a couple of bags by the street. Places like Nicklesville are kept relatively tidy. You can’t paint them all with the same brush.

  4. For years, I volunteered every week at an emergency feeding program, and then distributed the food (lunch bags) to these folks. Because I saw them and knew them by name, I SAW them. I’ve been unable to do this for a couple of years, and now I don’t see/acknowledge them, and when I do, I’m annoyed that they exist and are messing up my line of vision. The pictures and stories bring back their humanity, the same that we all share. I thank you for that.

  5. Paul, Never said anyone should be exempt from anything. I just think discussions around littering, in this context, is an example of how we perceive homelessness and the “homeless problem” on capitol hill — it’s smokescreen for broader problems and an example of how people of privilege skirt discussions around humanity.

          • to Steve: the use of the word “privilege” to me is an implication that we (those of us not homeless) are being given something for nothing, rather than working for it. I think it’s a word better reserved for those who are really spoiled, rather than people who are getting by. It’s somewhat of a nitpick on my part.

          • @Paul, Great discussion, thanks: I think the point you make about privilege is part of the problem I’ve been trying to get to. Not saying you’re party of the issue, just saying that our perception of what is and isn’t privilege, and who has it and who doesn’t, contributes to the problem. I’m also one of these people, but it’s an ongoing struggle that I try to combat daily. I mean… privilege takes many forms and if we’re going to say that only the spoiled should be considered privileged, then we’ll have to define what it means to be “spoiled.” It’s all perspective.

            I feel that everyone has some type of privilege — it happens with any kind of power dynamic and is ever-present in a society with haves and have nots. I don’t think we need to debate what type of privilege you have over someone else — I think all that matters is understanding how much better off you have it than others, why, and then unpacking that privilege to try to put yourself in that other person’s shoes. Not to oversimplify the complexities of homelessness, but I do think that these basic things are probably the best place to start.

            Again, not to be high and mighty about this, as I also admit that I am a person of many privileges and I get irritated and frustrated by many of the same issues you do when it comes to living on the hill. At the same time, I try to constantly question that and work to figure out the best ways I can help. Unpack it.

          • Steve: well said. I admire your thoughtfulness and concern for others, and I understand what you are saying about putting yourself in their shoes.

    • I agree that littering is not related to homelessness, it’s societal unfortunately. Many other cities (even ones larger and older than Seattle) are not nearly as dirty.
      …”it’s smokescreen for broader problems and an example of how people of privilege skirt discussions around humanity.”…
      Steve, it’s a blog. We’re not writing a crowdsourced masters thesis. Also, there is no “smokescreen” from “people of privilege”. The homeless are leaving trash around as well as people that have a home here. Bill Gates doesn’t drive over here from Medina to toss his used heroin needles around my car port.

      • I understand the point that litter is irritating. My original comments were in response to the reader who said: “My sympathy for the homeless ends when they start trashing the neighborhood…” All that reader had to say was what a thorn in the side homeless people were because they littler. Whether or not you subscribe to that perspective, I don’t know, but that’s what I was responding to. Yes, everyone should follow the laws. But, no, I don’t think littering should cloud our discussion when talking about extending help to the homeless and encouraging awareness around homelessness.

        Used syringes can also be problematic when not disposed of properly — for users (who come from all walks of life, not just the homeless), existing syringe exchanges are a great solution. I’ve also put them in 20 oz plastic pop bottles and taken them to Zoom Care for proper disposal (the Rite Aid on Broadway and John won’t take them).

        All I ask is that we extend a thought, and maybe a hand, to our homeless community before we judge them for the litter that we perceive they leave behind.

        • We “perceive” that they leave behind litter? Come on!….it’s obvious that this is happening. Yes, non-homeless people litter too, but not to nearly the degree as street people.

  6. Do the shelters locally allow pets? I was just wondering because of all of the people who have dogs (and even the occasional cat). Although I don’t usually give money to the people who have signs and ask for it on the street, I will purchase pet food and give them that when I see that they have animals. And please, I don’t want to start anything by asking that question. I know that some of the homeless feed their pets before they feed themselves but I was just wondering if shelters would let them in with pets.

    • I remember that young man who was working in a local restaurant but was homeless and living in his truck with his dog and who was stabbed in Cal Anderson Park earlier this year. That is someone who put a face on the homeless for me.

  7. First, Calhoun really, really needs to evaporate or crawl back into that dark ignorant space he has obviously spent most of his life docking at.

    Second, great photos of a horrible, preventable tragedy. Seattle is one of the most wealthy cities in the world, yet, the lack of political will to REALLY deal with the chronically homeless persists. Unbelievable. Our councillors run as compassionate citizens and then work as expedient, cold-hearted rationalists that offer excuse after excuse for their inabilities and failure to address housing unaffordablity, let alone our most chronically homeless. We can only hope Kshama can give the Sally Clarks, Nick Licata’s and Tom Rasmussens the wake up call kick in the arse they really need.

    • Ever heard of the Seattle/King County program “10 year plan to end homelessness”? Obviously this has not happened, but a lot of money has gone towards the effort and progress has been made, especially in getting people into transitional housing. And are you aware of the apartment building at Denny & Stewart (forget its name at the moment), which houses many formerly-chronic-street-people in a clean, safe environment, without requiring sobriety?

      Government agencies are only all-bad to anarchists. At times they do a lot of good.

  8. Pingback: Hot meals, social connections at Community Lunch on Capitol Hill | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  9. Shawn who was high on heroin and refusing medical attention is a perfect example of why I do not give to panhandlers. He likely got his heroin through panhandling or theft and now he is wandering Broadway stinking but refusing assistance. This state needs to improve it’s mental health system and civil commitment laws so that someone like him can be locked up so that they can get medical aid and sober up. Otherwise they just keep doing the drugs and petty crime to pay for them meanwhile they wreak havoc on the neighborhood and bring the quality of life down for the residents who must deal with the crime, smells, and etc.

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