Jesse Jackson, the first mayor of Seattle’s Hooverville during the great Depression, wrote: “Hooverville is a colony of industrious men, the most of whom are busy trying to hold their heads up and be self-supporting and respectable. A lot of work is required in order to stay here, consequently, the lazy man does not tarry long in this place.”
Today, not more than a mile south of that 1930’s settlement, a small scattered community of people live in their cars and motor homes on South Spokane Street where the West Seattle Bridge meets the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
The Seattle/King County Coalition for the Homeless conducts a “One Night Count” of homeless people in King County each year. The October 2004 count found an estimated 665 people living out of their cars. One counter wrote: “I will never forget – when I drive on the freeway that I am driving over someone’s bedroom.”
Scott McCleary, 54 in photo above
I just got done eatin’ with those folks in that camper over there and I’m kinda – we had some turkey – so I’m kinda relaxin’ a little. Living in car. It gets cold.
I’ve been out of work for about a month now. (I do) welding and fitting and fabrication.
Other than the trains and the traffic its pretty quiet.”
Mario Ramirez, 54
I’m trying to be straight, to keep apart from the drugs and the drinkers and the smokers so I’m right here. … I need to keep working these days because I need money. I like to work.
I stay by myself. I spend the night over here, downtown, under bridge because the rain. To protect a little bit. (I’ve been living in car) “for 3 years. I would like to have a room or an apartment or sharing with somebody but I don’t have money for getting an apartment.
The situation has been very bad. Very tough. I’m just trying to improve. Hopefully I’ll be rewarded (for the hard work).”
Amanda Davis, 27 and daughter Xander Davis, 2
We wound up with one of the best Christmas days. A family came by yesterday and they gave us well over $200 worth of stuff. It was wonderful. The first time they showed up I went into serious tears. And I told them I needed to give them a hug after all the stuff they gave. They came back the third time and they said they came back for that hug.
This is a RV motor home.and it’s a real piece of junk. When my boyfriend drove it all the way down here he said he had two fires and we need to get engine work done on this. We need all kinds of help with this.
(I’ve been) homeless off and on for ten years and I have to say that this is my best Christmas ever. (Pointing to the car) It gets up to 40 miles – if that. It’s missing a window. The place has got leaks throughout most of it. In the bathroom you’ve got a big ‘ole hole that goes all the way through.
And I’m sittin here on social security and other state funding. Its just been a real nightmare all month, and then that family showed up.”
Tom Garrett, 62
It’s alternative survival. I just filed for my pension for my retirement. I’ve lived kind of outside the general run because of some specific interests I’ve had in life. I’ve been devoted to a Buddhist practice. My values are somewhat non-traditional.
Down here where the trains are running and the cars, all this movement, its terribly deteriorative. So the environment breaks down and if you want it to look anywhere decent/acceptable you have to clean and clean and clean and clean, and you don’t seem to have enough time to clean. So like a lot of other people that are outside of the mainstream it starts to look pretty junky. It is a constant thing.
You wouldn’t want to do this for very long.
It is nice to be independent. But people that are living outside are 8 times as often to run into problems. Its better to stay inside the herd. It’s not fun outside.
I’ve been living in a van and a car for a couple years. And last year, January, I lost my keys. So it was going to be a hundred for them to come out and fix all the keys and stuff. So I went to the bank and I got a hundred dollars and when I got home at night it was towed. And so I got on the bus and stayed on the bus all night. The next day I went and bought two sleeping bags and a huge piece of plastic and I lived on the side of the freeway for a month until I got enough money to go to the auction. And I was able to buy this at the auction. I’ve been here ever since.