Would it have made a difference if I had known what was to slowly, ruinously become of my old neighborhood? Because I can so often understand something rationally, but it doesn’t change the way I feel about it emotionally. Would I have moved away from downtown Seattle earlier, lessened my attachments to it sooner, if I had known what was coming?
These are the thoughts that haunt me as I walk back to my old place on Vine Street under a September sky that is golden above the Monorail this time of the year. It has been almost a month since I’ve returned.
Earlier, I’d passed the nearly naked man who makes his home in the abandoned Lusty Lady doorway — the irony does not escape me. Broken glass was scattered everywhere as if smashed in a rage. It seemed to confirm that a camp spot can turn from benevolent to brutal in the blink of an eye. The flap of his tent wafted upward in the slight wind. A younger man inside stared at me as if there was something wrong with me for noticing him.
I took his stare to heart. I let it sink in.
Wrapping my sweater closer around my shoulders, I crossed to the Seattle Art Museum side of the street where the Hammering Man still pounds and I thought, you remind me of our city council, you keep pounding but nothing gets done. Businesses keep closing.
I look at all of the new tents strewn around the city, and I see that throwing money at homelessness doesn’t get us far. Nor does blaming. Nor does misdirected compassion, because compassion isn’t always what it seems. I do love Seattle. But it’s become an uneasy love. I just can’t seem to love it without shaking my head anymore. It’s despairing — there isn’t really any other word to describe it. My question always becomes: Other than fentanyl dealers, who is profiting from all of this misery? Is it best to continue to hope for a turnaround of leadership, or cross downtown off my list as simply “too depressing” like so many others have done.
Mentally, I make a case for both sides.
When King County bought the Inn at Queen Anne to run as “supportive housing,” my friend Lisa hoped for the best. But when Uptown Espresso cited crime for their closure because her beloved neighborhood was seized by crime, drug use and violent assaults, she started to pack. But it’s hard to make a new life, new connections, new friends, I tell her. It’s really hard.
I’ve always been moved by the beauty of Seattle, the clear sea
and mountain views, yet now I am fearful, which is a feeling incompatible with beauty.
And I did have a neighborhood I once loved. Neighbors I loved. Business owners I loved. They are mostly gone now, moved out of the city because of this same fear we can’t outrun, and it’s not of COVID-19, and it’s not because we are no longer 21. It’s of a city council that says it is compassionate, but it seems just the opposite is true. Where is their compassion for all the people who no longer feel safe in the neighborhoods they helped create?
It’s rare that policy makers live within the hardest hit neighborhoods they govern. I can only hope (and pray and vote!) that ours will finally admit that the homeless issue has become Seattle’s very own too-permissive public policy. It’s time to close the huge gap between what is naive ideology and what actually is, what actually works. Or, like a shark caught in a trawl net, we will continue to go under.
My father used to sing Sinatra songs softly to himself, songs like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” So I read through all the lyrics, highlighting my favorite lines. From the many, I’ve chosen these two because they reveal that when it comes to running a city, there is no better advice: Use your mentality. Wake up to reality.