I had a home, now I have a counseling appointment

Lola Bean - Posted on 18 November 2010

Mark Belvins - PNN Washington Correspondent

As I'm walking down the street it's easy to get distracted in my mind.

The smell of fifty other guys mixed in with some kind of industrial cleaner is something I want to forget. I'm sleeping on the docks. I stopped staying in the missions. I don't like them.  People pass by and think I must be a drunk fisherman. The cops woke me up a few times. Since I don't have any warrants, they told me to just go back to sleep.

I start thinking about my disability claim I have pending. I had to stop doing day labor. I get muscle spasms if I do labor type jobs more than two or three days in a row. I get some money from the state and some food stamps while I'm waiting for my disability claim paper work to go through. It's not much but I've learned not to take anything for granted.

I think about the time before the recession.

I was at the Marriott Hotel working as a dishwasher. There were two other guys who worked with me. They had moved to the United States from China.  I didn’t speak any Chinese.  They were learning English, though and we worked well together. Sometimes I would prep food for special events.

Then the recession hits.

I get a job with a temp agency. Someone is on vacation visiting their family in India. They’ll be gone two or three months.

I’m not making enough money to pay my bills. My wife’s job has a big contract with Washington Mutual Bank that ends. Besides this, no one is hiring.

There’s a lot of talk on the news about the recession and the Washington Mutual meltdown. They say banks made loans that were too risky. They lent money for mortgages that should have never been approved. There wasn’t enough regulation the last five years. It’s also said that Washington Mutual took on the riskiest debt. Besides that, the stock market crashes.

The next two months are okay. I’m getting a lot of hours between my regular job and the temp agency. Everyone at the Marriott is worried. The people they cater to make five and six figure incomes, and they have stopped spending money. The first thing most people cut out of their budget is going out to eat and staying in hotels. My job’s customer base is gone.

The dishwasher I’m taking the place of comes back from India. The restaurant tells me they can’t hire me because business is bad, but they will keep me on until the end of the week. I start looking for work. The story is same all around Seattle and the Puget Sound. People are getting their hours cut and are losing their jobs. No one is hiring.

 I realize I have to back to work in Alaska. It’s time to start calling the fishing companies.

 I break the lease to my apartment. I’ve been there five years and was going to buy a house or condo when the lease was up in a few more months.  There’s a boat that is leaving a week after I have to move out. I'll have to stay at one of the missions while I'm waiting. We’ve got to put everything in storage.

 Me and my wife get a storage unit and rent a U-Haul van.

We use up just about every square inch of the storage unit. Everything gets packed in and stacked up to the ceiling. The storage unit looks like a big jigsaw puzzle. What we can't put into storage gets donated. We give a neighbor lady a bunch of food in our fridge so we don't have to throw it out. I think her name is Lisa. She says she'll take in our cat. I'm glad I won't have to take Chico to an animal shelter.

My wife will be going to live with her family in San Jose, CA While I'm in Alaska. I take her to the airport a couple days later.

There's a lot of new security at SeaTac. She has to get there early to make sure she can pass through security and have time to board the plane. We stop at a coffee shop down stairs and walk to the boarding area. I can only go so far with her without a ticket.

We kiss and say goodbye.

I take a bus back home. It's home for two more days any ways. I do some last minute cleaning. I don't want to leave the place a mess. There's some stuff nobody wanted and the Salvation Army wouldn't take in their truck. I guess they can't re-sell it. So I start throwing it in the dumpster. I start to think why did we need all this stuff'?

I get most of my old stuff thrown out and decide that's it for the day. The rest can wait for tomorrow. I do have one more day there. I go to Safeway and get some beer. I stop off at Papa Murphy's and get a pizza. I decide it’s time to eat and drink even if things aren't so merry.

I stay at a local homeless mission while the boat gears off for Salmon Season.

Then it's a ten day trip to Bristol Bay. The season starts off slow at first, then things get busy. We're all working sixteen hours a day and making our quota for a bonus most days. It looks like I'm going to be able to pay all my bills.

Then my back gets hurt. I try to work through the pain a few days. I have to leave early, can't afford to slip a disc. That would mess me up for life.

I see the Starbucks at Westlake Mall. I just walked there from the Urban Rest Stop, a place to take a shower and do laundry. I order my coffee and think, was that really a year ago? I look out the window and see teenage kids with dogs pan handling. People call them gutter punks and plaza rats. It’s said most of them are runaways. I’ve bought some food for some of them. I didn’t ask if they ran away from home because of abuse, didn’t want them to say I was getting too personal with them. It’s hard to see kids out here.

I've also filed for a divorce, but that’s a different story.

The state sent me a letter that said I have to go to counseling. I’ve got to make an appointment. That's where I'm headed to. I’m going to drink another cup of coffee first. 

Check out these articles and more on our sister sites at Real Change and the International Network of Street Newspapers: INSP Vendor Blog: http://www.insp-blog.org/ INSP Main Website: http://www.street-papers.org/ Real Change Blog: http://www.insp-blog.org/realchange/ Real Change Main Website: http://www.realchangenews.org/ 

The parallels between Mark's experience and mine are startling, I always say it's an old story when I tell people how I ended up sleeping in my car. My furniture has been in storage now for over 5 years. I am not quite ready for divorce, but my wife did go live with family,that a long twisted saga of a whole nuther sad state of aaffairs.


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