A recent visit to Bread of Life mission in Seattle revealed a homeless-outreach organization with peculiar challenges facing foreigners these days.
Like many, I didn’t see a Trump win coming. But I might have taken it as a clue when, while visiting a homeless shelter downtown Tuesday morning, I heard anxious Clinton-vs.-Trump debates among residents.
“You never know. Sometimes you think someone is going to win and then, well, something else happens,” said Ricardo Vázquez, in what now seems like an uncanny prediction. “I think even though he (Trump) is not the right person, people need some change.”
Vázquez is a resident volunteer at the Bread of Life Mission in Pioneer Square. He arrived in Seattle, imagining it as a way station before finding work in the fishing industry in Alaska. But injuries and illness slowed his job search, and he became homeless.
The Resident Volunteer Program offers men room and board in exchange for help maintaining and running the Mission. The Mission, known for its retro, neon sign that frames a glowing Jesus, also provides emergency services and programs that address addiction, employment and housing.
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Originally from Spain but raised in Miami, Vázquez said he’d heard many arguments from “both sides” in recent days. And these arguments were making fellow resident volunteer Mamoudou, of the Ivory Coast, increasingly nervous.
“This morning I was arguing with some guys downstairs who were yelling ‘Trump!’ ‘Trump!’ ” said Mamoudou, who doesn’t want his last name published because he is undocumented and fears deportation. “Trump is going to deport me. I know, I’m not stupid. He is going to deport me. If he wins, he’s going to put ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on the street.”
Vázquez (who is a U.S. citizen) and Mamoudou both represent a growing international population served by Bread of Life. It’s a population that faces unique challenges and hardships that further complicate homelessness and housing insecurity.
“Africa, Germany, Polish people, South America, Puerto Rico, Sweden, Canada, a lot of people from Canada, a lot of people from Africa,” said Bread of Life Program Manager Leonard Mayo, listing the regions he’s heard of from clients. Mayo estimates that half the people now served by the Mission are foreign-born.
“I’ve asked them why they come here,” he adds, “and it’s for the opportunities.”
But Mamoudou, who left the Ivory Coast in 2008 with the hope of helping his family, has found that many of the opportunities require identification and documentation. He arrived in Seattle a month ago seeking a strong job market and an immigrant-friendly city. He became homeless after a room promised to him by a relative didn’t pan out.
“I think if I knew what I know now, maybe I wouldn’t have rushed to come, maybe I would have stayed there,” he said. “All Africans here, that’s the problem we have, we’re in the shadow.”
Mamoudou said he wants to work hard and would even like to do a certificate program and develop a career, but his lack of papers means he’s stuck in dead-end jobs. “It’s like my hands are tied,” he said. “I can’t do anything right now.”
But even with documentation, America is a harsher place than the image it projects to the broader world. And as a city with a global reputation and an economic boom, we’re attracting the hard-luck tales as well as the success stories.
“Virtually every immigrant that comes here is so disappointed when they get here and find what they find,” said Norman Robinson, vice president of programs at Bread of Life. “They think it’s what they see on TV sitcoms or the Kardashians.”
The reality, said Robinson, is a country where many people — foreign and native-born, documented and undocumented — feel locked out of good opportunities and abandoned when they fall on hard times.
“Homelessness is something that can happen to you whether you’re from this country or not,” he said, adding, “It’s just the odds are greater if you don’t come from this country and you don’t have documentation or papers.”
These were the themes coursing through Tuesday’s election results. A panicked sense of scarcity and a fear of being left behind. But also up for debate was our nation’s identity as the land of opportunity — and who deserves a shot at it.