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Faces of Capitol Hill | Rick

(Image: Tim Durkan/CHS)

(Image: Tim Durkan/CHS)

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.

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16 thoughts on “Faces of Capitol Hill | Rick

  1. Fascinating and raises questions. Here we have the very definition of chronic homeless. Rick’s spent 22 years homeless in Seattle, is now 40 years old, and has been homeless since he was 18. He’s a self-admitted drug addict, spending $50/day on drugs, or $1500/month. That’s enough for food and housing, even here in Capitol Hill, but he spends it on drugs. Rick says he likes being homeless and using drugs. He doesn’t want to and isn’t going to change anything.

    I’m actually okay with all that, but I think it does raise some questions about how to help the homeless here on Capitol Hill.

    • One snapshot of his day. Who knows where that evening and tomorrow and tomorrow went. And would someone choose homelessness if they had other options? Or is acting like it’s a choice a way to cope?

    • John, when I read this I thought next time I see Luke I will surely buy him a deluxe. But after reading your enlightened comment I am much less inclined.

      22 yrs X 12 X 2k is a lot of killing the pain from a hatefully upbringing or… Just a questionable waste.

      Think about the community activist Luke who could live on dimes but still have help another brother off the streets. Or Luke the Real Change guy who actually shows up — not high everyday.

      Sorry the half a million dollar wasted being wasted not to mention, FOOD Luke will get nothing but I am going to seed my wallet with a few 20’s for the play my violin guy and the real change guy on 15th.

      Let us hope the EA Gangs don’t heist it before then.

      Speaking of which— Those guys have to be a in depth story topic; EA gangs as well as the long time buskers on 15th.

    • The fact that he says of meth ““it calms me down as I’m naturally hyper” is a huge red flag that he has an untreated chemical imbalance. With the right meds, he wouldn’t need to self-medicate. But we as a society are much, much happier jailing and punishing people like this (at enormous cost) vs. housing and treating them (at a much lower cost).

  2. It seems that Rick is a person who has chosen to be homeless for 22 years. He could choose instead to get into a drug rehab program, but instead he prefers to panhandle and live off of others. And exactly where does he get the $1500/month he spends on meth? It’s not possible to get that sum by panhandling. Is he dealing too? Is he on “disability”?

    I for one am not OK with this.

    • As it states in the article, he doesn’t actually pay $1500/mo.
      He gets good deals, but uses $1500 worth. (standard long-term user deal) But your point remains…where does he get so much cash?

    • Honestly, who cares if you’re not ok with it. We have spent trillions of useless wars for oil but “oh Jesus a junkie, who we wouldn’t fund a decent treatment program for or decent follow up even if he did admit that he is lost in addiction, might be getting food stamps and $604 a month SSI!” Wake up.

      • Apples and oranges, Del.

        There are inpatient treatment programs available for people like Rick….but apparently he is perfectly happy living a life of addiction and homelessness. To be more specific, what I am not OK with is taxpayer money going to someone who chooses such a lifestyle and makes no effort to change.

  3. 22 years of living on the streets and doing meth. Hard to imagine. Wouldn’t that life get really, really old, long before its third decade?

    • Not really.. When you are chronically depressed and have PTSD, the days and nights just kind of start blending together if it is not treated, I have lost the last three years of my life to mental illness. I have been on SSI and food stamps and honestly, I can see why he choses the streets. You can’t live on $600 a month and you have to wait forever to get into public housing, during which you are subject to strict curfews and a lack of dignity from sharing spaces with people who can steal your stuff. If self medicating and sleeping in stairwells is working for him and he doesn’t want public help, there’s not much anyone can do. It’s sad he was unable to get over whatever happened in his childhood, I know what that is like too.

      I have been struggling with getting proper mental health care in WA for three years and am homeless now too. It’s a damn shame we are such a highly educated state yet we are somehow 47th in mental health services.

      I hope to help people who want to get out of this cycle by educating them on how to build tiny houses on trailers and building them together. Seattle’s density zoning laws could help support a solution by parking these in backyards and offering the land owner a few hundred a month. I’ll be launching an Indie Gogo this week to build one for myself and get the second one started. I hope to get social workers involved who can help screen the clients this would be most beneficial for to put land owners at ease about having a formerly homeless person in their backyard- I want these homes to help people who are really putting in an effort at life but keep getting knocked down because of a lack of a support system or the cost of living around here keeps biting them in the ass.

      • I take issue with your comments about public housing….yes, there are waiting lists, but how many of the chronic homeless even bother to get on these lists? The apartments in the Seattle Housing buildings (and also Senior Housing) are self-contained, with locks on the doors, so there is no sharing of space or risk of theft. And there is no “curfew.” (perhaps your comment was about shelters). The rent is very low….30% of income usually…and there are many people in public housing who are getting by on their disability/SSI income.

        Yes, mental health services…and accessing them….are woefully inadequate in our state. I wish you the best in obtaining better care in 2015!