Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Street Family

I found them living under tarps on a hillside around this time last Christmas.
It was an area known as a homeless encampment and I had been directed there with the help of a picture of the people I was looking for from the newspaper.
They were witnesses in a case I was working on.
They were important to find because they were "independent" witnesses... a man and woman who allegedly witnessed someone get hit in a crosswalk and had no connection to the person hit or the person who hit him.
The insurance company was giving the injured person and his attorney grief, claiming the attorney's client wasn't in the crosswalk.
And even if he was, the light to cross was red.
And, besides that, claimed an obviously deluded insurance adjustor,  the pedestrian jumped on the hood of the car that hit him and fractured his leg and hip.
I kid you not.
The insurance companies try that stuff.

Thankfully, there are personally injury attorneys willing to invest their own money in cases where people are really hurt and need help.
Then they pay P.I.'s like me to find evidence to help the clients they hope to get a settlement for.
So I was hired to find the witnesses.
They were a couple.
I asked if they were married.  He said unofficially, but on the streets they were husband and wife.
They'd been on the streets 11 months.
They'd both lost their jobs. Then homes.
And they introduced to me to  a young couple, they called their kids.

That's the way life on the streets works.
When your own family rejects you, you look for a second one.
That's the street family.
They lived under a blue tarps in an area near the University where a lot of homeless people live under randomly spaced plastic and cardboard roofs.
We do have a more organized tent-city in Seattle for the homeless called Nicklesville. It moves every few months for a number of reasons.
These folks I met chose a different path, living on their own in the woods with their street family.

People ask me if I am afraid approaching certain people or environments.
I wasn't then.
You do this job long enough and you develop that sixth, seventh and eighth sense.
There was no danger there for me other than looking in the mirror image they could reflect right back at me....or any of us....who lose our jobs... or our homes... our families.
There are so many people on the streets now who are good people who have not just fallen on hard times....
They have had the hard times dropped on them.
And while they get easier to ignore begging for money on street corners over time...
and while your eyes watch them sleeping in doorways or under trees as if it's a movie and not real life....
they are all around us.
And they need more than a hand or a hand out.
These poor folks need a break.

So this post is dedicated to the nameless man with the soaking sign I  pass almost every time I turn onto Aurora after exiting the ferry.
And this is for the "Homeless Mother Of Two Who Needs Help" in the raincoat on the corner of Mercer and Westlake, just heading onto I5.
Yesterday, I sat parked at long red light in the heart of Seattle and was fascinated by the lady on the park bench next to my car.
I dedicate this to her too.
She was homeless, surrounded by overflowing shopping benches filled with the cast offs of others. She had a huge smile on her face while she sang Amazing Grace. For a few brief seconds our eyes met and i felt like she was singing to me.
I could not, still can not, fathom how she could land in such a place and still smile.

Now... to the point of this blog post.
I got the hand-written statements I needed from the man in woman in the woods and we parted ways.
The attorney was happy, the case was won, it was another score for the home team.
Still, I can't pass that street and that stretch of woods without remembering, wondering... and feeling... this overwhelming sense of gratitude for my life.
Lesson learned?
Take nothing and no one for granted.
Every one has a story.
And just because they have less money than you do, does not mean they are  less than you are.
In my humble opinion, those people wear their sense of entitlement like a crown...
could use a good de-throning.

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