Homeless: A view from the streets | Part I

Homelessness – it is a word, a tragedy and an issue that reflects the complex problems facing our region, state and nation.

Homelessness – it is a word, a tragedy and an issue that reflects the complex problems facing our region, state and nation.

Every school district, city and community has homeless adults and children living in a nearly invisible world of streets, parking lots, doorways, porches and cars.

Kent, as the sixth largest city in the state, has had a fast-growing population of homeless people since the Great Recession hit in 2008. There are government officials, religious and humanitarian groups trying to bring assistance to those who have fallen on tough times.

This story is the first of a three-part series on homelessness and living on the streets in and around Kent.

A Different Perspective

Wade Schwartz has helped the homeless for more than two decades. He currently owns a hair salon at 207 E. Meeker in downtown Kent, Blanc ‘n Schwartz. Every week he takes in clothes from homeless people, washes them and has them folded and ready for pickup on Sunday morning.

He also gives haircuts to those who are trying to get jobs.

“I want to help them feel good, be cleaned up and presentable,” Schwartz said. “It is part of feeling good about themselves.”

One of the people that deeply affected Schwartz was a young man suffering from bipolar disorder whose parents kicked him out of the house.

“Where does he go?” he said. “He’s living on the street.”

Schwartz recalled in 1991 in Seattle he tried to help some homeless folks living under the viaduct and it taught him a lesson. He had  bought them a box of apples rather than give money.

“No one wanted them,” Schwartz said. “Their teeth weren’t good enough. It ripped me apart.”

Schwartz has presented the city and community with a plan to form a committee of local business members, government officials and health professionals. He said there would be no cost to the city. The committee would work in the community with the homeless and help deal with complexities of the issue including health, personal care and getting a job.

“There are so many things we could do as a group,” Schwartz said. “It’s about putting back into the community.”

Schwartz said his estimate is the current population of homeless in Kent is more than 400 — and growing.

Homeless in Kent

On the morning of Jan. 2, Schwartz was standing in front of his salon talking with Orville Tate and a man who requested his name not be used, and he will be referred to as J.T.

J.T and Tate were picking up the clothes Schwartz had washed to pass out to others.

Tate said he had been homeless since 2009. He is 51 years old, has been married three times and has a grown daughter and step-children.

His last divorce was in 2005.

“What got me into this was the job I was working at in Redmond, they closed the plant down,” Tate said.

After he lost his job Tate hebegan retraining for a wastewater treatment employment, but the school ran out of funding before he could get certification.

I was on unemployment, but I was on extensions and everything was running out,” Tate said.

He said he worked as a warehouseman for 25 years and served four years in the Navy as an enlisted serviceman.

Tate first went to the Maple Valley Food Bank and Emergency Services for help and  the Catholic Community Service. He lived in a shelter for a period of time.

Tate did not want to tell where he was staying now, but said since April he has been out on the streets.

“I’ve been fortunate where I’m staying at that it is dry, warm,” Tate said. “I have my sleeping bag and a couple of blankets and with Wade (Schwartz) helping out doing laundry for us…. I stay warm at night.”

J.T.’s story is different in many respects, but similar in others.

He came from California for a job and the company went bankrupt after three months.

“Every check he gave me bounced,” J.T. said. “That basically put me backwards and it took me awhile to find a replacement job, which I’ve got now. I’m back to work.”

J.T. has a bachelors and masters degrees and has been back to work for about a year. He has a home and spends much of his off hours assisting others who are homeless.

J.T’s perspective on  life in the streets is considerably different from many.

“The biggest problem with the homeless is they have nothing to do,” J.T. said. “One of the problems is boredom. Boredom brings out problems.”

Next week: A view from the streets

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