[Hpn] Homeless teach an unlikely student

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Thu, 28 Jul 2005 08:14:45 -0400

This is asimilar to what I attempted to do in 2002 here in NH  get some
persons with influence to go out into camps and stay with the homeless to
actually  learn and take stories.

 But it seems that was not to be, because the notes taken that day  of the
2002 NH Homeless Tour have never been printed as a human interest  story.

 A Brother In The Struggle
William "Bill" Tinker


 Homeless teach an unlikely student
Full story:

 By Natalie Singer
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

 Peggy Hotes looks like your stereotypical Bellevue mom: coiffed hair, shiny
red pedicure, chunky jewelry hanging off her wrists.

 She has a modest suburban home in a high-demand neighborhood and a
rewarding job as an elementary-school teacher.

 But every night for nearly a month, Hotes, 54, has huddled inside a
sleeping bag on the ground below Interstate 5 in Seattle.

 She has chosen to sleep at the outdoor Seattle shelter and occasionally at
Tent City 4 on the Eastside, she said, to better help and understand
homeless people.

 What began as an occasional night cooking meals for the hungry has evolved
into a new and unusual lifestyle for Hotes.

 A typical summer day goes like this: She arrives about 9 p.m. at Safe
Haven, a loose-knit outdoor shelter for 25 to 30 people who congregate
around Seventh Avenue and Cherry Street in downtown Seattle.

 From her trunk, she unloads the 10 quarts of coffee she brewed earlier at
home and passes it out. The group, an assortment of single men, women and
sometimes a few couples with their belongings in tow, gathers in a circle
for introductions.

 Though Hotes usually trades her strappy summer sandals and capris for long
pants and sneakers, the Safe Haven folks realize with a glance that she
isn't truly "homeless."

 "But once they see that I'm genuinely interested in them, then I'm
accepted," said Hotes, who is divorced and has a 22-year-old son at home.

 The group exchanges news and talks about the search for an indoor site. The
program, operated by Seattle Housing and Resource Effort, or SHARE, had been
using St. James Cathedral until the end of June, when the Seattle church
began a remodel.

 As the sun sets, Hotes and the others pick their spots and set up tarps and
sleeping bags on the ground. Tucked into a nook underneath a section of I-5,
the concrete roadway just above their heads, they are somewhat protected
from the elements.

 Still, the spot makes Tent City 4 -- usually set up in church parking
lots -- seem like a hotel. Ambulances from nearby Pill Hill scream past at
high speeds, and street sweepers kick up soot as they brush by. On a cold
night, wind can creep into one's sleeping bag; so can rats.

 "I don't sleep well," Hotes admitted. "Things wake you up."

 Each morning, after storing her sleeping gear, Hotes heads to Tent City 4,
now at Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland, to run errands
for residents and talk to friends. After a walk in Bellevue Downtown Park,
she tries to nap inside her house. Then it's chores, more coffee brewing and
back to Seattle for another night under I-5.

 Her spare time is spent going to meetings about homelessness and helping
the shelters locate services and future host sites.

 "It's the best summer vacation I can remember having," she said.

 Hotes, who teaches special education at Carl Sandburg Elementary in
Kirkland, is a member of Evergreen Peace and Justice Community, an Eastside
group promoting nonviolent solutions to conflict.

 When the roving Tent City 4 moved to the Eastside last year, friend Dorli
Rainey invited her to a public hearing in Bothell.

 "She went to that one meeting, and the rest is history," Rainey said.
"She's an incredible person to be doing what she's doing."

 Hotes began cooking meals for homeless residents and last fall decided to
spend one night a week at the encampment.

 "One of the things we keep saying is that people from the community should
come and see what we're really about, and she's done that," said Leo Rhodes,
a Tent City 4 resident. "Now she can share her experiences and get that
stereotype about the homeless out of people's minds.

 "When she does move on, she'll really be missed."

 Hotes said she's never felt threatened at the shelters and has been touched
by the kindness of those who have almost nothing themselves. Once, she said,
a shelter resident noticed Hotes did not have a mat under her sleeping bag.
She assured the man she didn't need one. Later, Hotes returned to find a
cushion carefully tucked underneath.

 Another time, a man who stayed at Safe Haven went out to work as a day
laborer and was hired permanently. Days later, Hotes said, he returned to
offer her $20 of his paycheck, to put toward coffee and supplies for the
shelter visitors.

 She isn't sure what will come of her time sleeping outside. She's not doing
it to write a book or get famous. She won't guess what the long-term impacts
will be.

 But her immediate goal is clear: To get to know homeless people as
individuals. To advocate on their behalf. To press for more programs and

 "As long as I can do it, I'll keep doing it," she said. "I'm just concerned
for these people. They have the real courage."

 Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or nsinger@seattletimes.com