It’s a wet, blustery night on Capitol Hill when I run into Rick enjoying a chocolate shake in front of a well known burger joint on Broadway. He’s panhandling with his best friend Luke when they figure they have enough for a coffee and head off to a nearby outdoor cafe.
Rick, who prefers that I not use his last name, just celebrated his 40th birthday and smiles when he says, “I didn’t do anything fancy, but I am thankful to be here and to be alive.” Originally from Tacoma, his birthday also represents another important date; marking 22 years of being homeless on the streets of Seattle — most of them here on Capitol Hill.
“It doesn’t really bother me, being homeless,” Rick said. “I don’t like being controlled by others, especially Uncle Sam. I may get my own place one day but don’t want any strings attached. There are benefits to being homeless.
“I like the fresh air, of being outside and being free. Probably the worst part of being homeless is having to get up out of bed on a night like tonight — cold and wet and needing to go to the bathroom. I don’t like that at all!” Luke smiles behind the last few sips of coffee in the paper cup and nods his head in agreement.
Rick says he’s pretty much alone in the world, except for a couple trusty friends on the street. His mother recently passed away and his dad is living in Florida. It has been a long time since he has talked to anyone in his family and he seems reticent talking about it further. When I asked if he missed his mom or dad he was quick to answer with an emphatic, “No.” Enough said.
Neither are sure where they will be staying tonight and look ill-prepared for the cold, rainy weather. “Sometimes we’ll stay in a stairwell near one of the colleges or hospitals, sometimes in a doorway along Broadway. They let us use the bathrooms at the hospitals, which is nice. But I don’t have a blanket tonight and might have to snuggle with Luke,” he says with a grin. Luke anxiously smiles as he looks over at his small, thin blanket stuffed into a shopping bag.
I’ve know Rick for about five years. He’s one of the more interesting, respectful and straightforward people I’ve met on the streets. When it comes to the topic of drugs and addiction he doesn’t hesitate or hold back. “I like and use meth. I was introduced to it at a party with friends when I was about 18. It all started through peer pressure and now it’s just a bad habit that helps pass the time. I don’t like to get drunk as it makes me sick and act like an idiot every time.” Luke raises his eyebrows and silently nods his head. “I like speed,” Rick says emphatically. “I use it every day – crystal meth, ice, crank… it calms me down as I’m naturally hyper. I probably use about $50 a day though I don’t pay that much for it. There is an abundance of it on the streets and I get really good deals. I also don’t like or use heroin very much at all.”
I asked if he had any advice for the younger kids new to the street. “Yes, go home and do whatever you can to get back into favor with your parents — get on bended knee if you have to. Just don’t start using dope because it’ll never let you go.” When I ask if he ever thought about quitting meth he pauses for a moment “I think about taking a break every now and again, but then I think… No, why or how would I? I haven’t been clean in a very long time. One day, maybe.”
One day won’t be today, though, as he takes the last sip of coffee and motions to Luke “Hey, get your stuff together because we gotta go meet our guy.” And with one last connection to be made before they call it a night, we all thank each other, shake hands and say goodnight.