Seattle’s homeless population is just about impossible to ignore — it’s huge (3rd in the nation, after New York and LA) and growing. These faces make up the fabric of my daily life. The old man who I pass each time I go to catch a bus, who beds down with his patchwork quilt each night on the stoop of the investment firm down the street from my apartment. The woman who I walk by on my way home from work each evening, who commandeers the bus stop on the corner of 5th Avenue and Denny Way, who constructs a windproof shelter each night out of several battered umbrellas. The men and women who call the Hooverville-esque tent city at the I-5/I-90 junction home. If you take half a second to stop and look around this city, you’ll see the ongoing struggle with homelessness on every corner.
Yet those of us who have a warm, dry, secure place to spend the night each night tend to look right through these people, treating them as if they are inanimate parts of the urban landscape, like benches or trash cans. Hell, I spend half my week dodging people gathered on street corners, as well as my own conscience. It’s almost too easy — walk quickly and purposefully, keep your eyes focused on a point in the middle distance, and if someone does approach you, mumble something marginally coherent about not having any cash.
This is how I have always approached these situations, and how everyone I know approaches them (I had to learn the steps to the dance somewhere), with blinders on, keeping out the ugly and unpleasant. For some reason though, the cognitive dissonance has caught up with me in the last few months; I am a self-declared progressive feminist, who has been known to rail against racism, sexism, income inequality, the education gap, regressive tax systems, foreign policy led by hawks instead of doves, and a host of other issues. I believe strongly in social justice, and hope to make addressing inequality my life’s work. Yet, when faced with the prospect of engaging with actual humans on these issues, particularly homelessness, I freeze up because I don’t have the experiences to relate. Though I empathize, I am not sure how to act in response. But I want to learn.
This summer, I will be participating in Bike and Build, a cross-country cycling trip in support of affordable housing. Over the course of 10 weeks, I will pedal from providence to Seattle, stopping along the way to participate in affordable housing builds and to educate communities on the issues surrounding poverty, homelessness, and the lack of affordable housing in the US.
I have wanted to participate in Bike and Build for years, mainly because I love riding my bike and cycling across the country seemed like a challenging and exciting adventure. However, living in Seattle has changed my motivations for this trip. Before it was all about the bicycling. But, as I learn more about the failures of public housing and the stories of individuals, as told by artists like Jesse Rogers, I am drawn more and more to addressing the root causes of poverty and the lack of affordable housing in the US. For a country that bills itself as the land of milk and honey, we have a lot of citizens who are not reaping the benefits of this so-called egalitarian democracy. I plan to learn more about the underlying, systemic problems and what steps are being taken to address them, to hear other people’s stories, and to chronicle these lessons, as well as all my misadventures on the road, here.
If you would like to learn more about my experience with Bike and Build and/or make a donation in support of my ride, follow the link to my Bike and Build profile.