Beggars / Panhandlers / Homeless, Seattle
There are so many social services that are taxpayer funded in Seattle, such as very nice apartment complexes built to house "chronic public inebriates," food kitchens, shelters, etc.. Also, a small but loud contingent of homeless choose to live in tent cities that the city basically "tolerates" due to intense political pressures from far-left groups.
None of the locals I know give money to panhandlers. Many of us do give money to food banks and other charities. In fact, Seattle is the top-ranked city in the nation for charitable donations.
The panhandling situation that's become so prevalent since the early 1990s started with the grunge scene (mostly runaways from the eastern seabord who came out here to shoot up and die in alleyways.) Eventually, word got out to the indigent living in other cities across the nation that Seattle coddles its homeless population and they get a pretty good deal out here.
I've talked with a few "regulars" who hang out by my office downtown selling their "Real Change" newspaper and they've told me that most of the homeless in this city are not local. A lot of people now on the streets watched shows like "The Deadliest Catch" and came to Seattle looking for blue collar work. The problem there is two-fold: 1) you can't get those jobs if you don't know someone in the scene; and 2) most blue-collar jobs go to the abundant illegal alien Latino population, which is viciously defended by organizations like El Centro del La Raza.
Most of the homeless in Seattle are from the USA's East Coast and Southwest. Very few of the homeless in Seattle are actually local (seriously, just ask them where they're from.) There are some Native American artists who live on the street, but they tend to take care of their own and make a living by selling their art, which I encourage all tourists to purchase.
There are a lot, and I mean a LOT of mentally unbalanced homeless individuals combing the streets, but you'll find that most of the homeless are drifters who came here from other parts of the country looking for a better life and all they got out of it was a drug or alcohol habit that they let the tourists pay for through their donations. They know that the tourists are their bread and butter, so they get very agressive about it, especially in touristy areas like the waterfront, Pioneer Square and Westlake Center. Locals blow them off and they know it's pointless to even try. If you actually want to help them help themselves, then drop by a shelter or a food kitchen, most of which are around the King County Courthouse and make a donation there. You won't be paying for meth, heroin or Mad Dog by taking that route and the locals will really appreciate it.
I didn't ever feel in real danger but some of the homeless there are real wackos. They'll come right up and talk to you. Just ignore them and you'll be fine for the most part. I'd try to stay with a big group if you can though. You never know if some isolated incident could come about.
Okay sure, some people you come across in Seattle may seem dangerous to you, complain to the mental hospital that shut their doors and closed down. Don't treat all homeless people like their spawn of the earth though, not all of them are the same.
I'm one of them and I just try to mind my own business, without trying to bum people for cigarrettes (which are a nasty habit), money or whatever. I'm like you I want to be left alone, I won't stand out on the corner like some of the others and beg or hold a sign...I'm too proud for that.
I go walking around looking for work, and sometimes being in the state that I am I get snubbed nose, but even when I'm clean I get the same reaction without all my stuff. And also complain to whoever has decided to do the 'End homelessness a ten year plan' thing. I certainly don't see anything happening. Not when I see a guy sleeping by his bags (because the shelters won't let him keep his stuff there) and the bags are resting by his MOBILITY CART! So all in all, you may call us a danger but we're still victims in this city, because nobody seems to give a crap.
Please forgive the following rant:
I've read everywhere things like "oh, they're not that bad," and "the homeless problem is worse other places" and maybe that is true.
& most important to remember imho is they're people too.
I truly believe we should be kind to them whenever possible because there but for the grace of U-Know-Who go you & me.
I've been to just about every major city in the US for years, and one of the things that I & others I know end up talking about is the homeless situation in Seattle, and the hostility sometimes that goes with it.
In fairness, a lot of 'em are friendly and some even downright creative:
but nowhere have I ever been harrassed more than walking certain parts of Seattle, day or night.
If I'm cash-broke, I try to say "No, thank you" when I can, & it seems the worst thing you can do is blow some of them off with the "if I don't see you, you're not there" approach that works in other cities.
Me and others I know have been followed down the street by crazed aggressive types screaming "hey I'm fuc#in' talkin' to you...!!" and other fun stuff for merely walking by and forgetting to apologize to them for being out of cash. To be honest, when this happens, it takes every bit of self control I have to stay cool and not carve some of them up, homeless or not.
Hey, I truly wish I always carried around a big bottomless bag of money that I could give away everywhere I go, but I'm afraid that isn't possible. I give when I can, and I really don't appreciate getting screamed at the times that I can't.
Sorry if this offends you, but it ain't just me... lots of people I know that travel to and spend the majority of their time working in downtown Seattle say the same thing....
some of the homeless in Seattle REALLY have some serious attitude.
I took some pictures of people panhandling on the streets, but as an afterthought have decided not to post any of them.
Seattle's Union Gospel Mission
When going to Seattle, we go for girl trips! That means shopping, eating, and drinking. There are sooo many amazing resturants that one can't help but leave half of a plate uneaten as they're still full from the meal before! Seattle is all about recycling...so recycle! Don't waste your food. The people who are often asking for money are saying that they are doing so because they are hungry (minus those that blatently tell you they will buy alcohol) so ask for that pasta or whatever, unless it has seafood in it, to be wrapped up, pour the rest of the bread basket in, and Ta Dah...you have fulfilled your responsibilities of not wasting food and helping someone in need. When I travel I sometimes will also buy McDonald Gift Certificates (they come from $1 on up) and hand those out if I know that I will spend my night worrying about what I didn't give. Someone once shared with me her conviction..."I am not responsible for what they do. I am only responsible for my own actions." Very true. Now you can get into the whole enabler aspect of things but anyways, I hope that this is helpful. It really helps to make our trips to this WONDERFUL city that much more enjoyable!
I've lived in Seattle my entire life, and as a small girl who doesn't carry a weapon of any kind, I have always felt safe walking in Seattle anywhere after dark. Homeless people in this city are not dangerous, but they have needs. That is why they ask for money. Many if not most of these individual suffer from mental illness, that is why some of them can get belligerant. MAny of them are addicted to drugs, or are otherwise unemployable -- skillless, undereducated, without a picture ID (ever tried to get a driver's license when you don't have access to a car?), unshowered, with no permanent residence. Now, the homelessness issue is a huge problem in Seattle, for us, but it is a bigger issue for them. If you really want to be constructive, don't cause unwarranted paranoia for tourists, write a letter to the city of Seattle's government and complain about how our undertrod citizens are not being provided the resources they need to get back into the work force. Do NOT criticize, blame, condemn, or otherwise judge people you don't know anything about. And give them a freaking dollar. It's nothing to you and everything to them. If the city isn't going to take care of them, then we have to. And if they go and buy booze with it, then maybe that's what they need to stay warm and to self-medicate against painful disabilities and the difficulties of living on the street. If you're not comfortable with that, then offer them your leftovers from the meal you just had out. Or offer to take them to the nearest coffee shop and get them a coffee. Offer them your coat. These are not the scum of the earth, people. They are human beings just like you and me. You and I could be one mental breakdown or one layoff away from being on the streets. If you have a heart and/or a soul, pick up a book ("Crazy" by Pete Earley or "Shelter Blues" by Robert Desjarlais) about the issue and actually try to put yourself in someone else's disadvantaged shoes. And then, after getting informed, maybe take some constructive action.
Reading some of the comments on the homeless I can't help but think...grow up! Homelessness is a fact of life, its just more obvious in big cities. If if disgusts you, then keep your vacations limited to Disneyland. Don't dehumanize them, they are people too!
Seattle is not scary- it is beautiful & fun & as long as you're not walking down some dark alley way (which you shouldn't do anywhere) you will be just fine! And if you look like a vulnerable tourist, well, of course you'll be a target (again, this is true most everywhere)!
I live in Seattle, work downtown, play downtown & have even worked in the "bad" areas of downtown at 3 a.m. delivering papers & seldom was I scared. (& FYI, I am not some big, strong, intimidating-looking person). Sure, there may be a crazy or weirdo or two out there. . but that's life & you're going to come across the unexpected sometimes.
Of course it's ultimately you're call whether you want to give them money or not. I would never tell someone what they should do. But living in the city, I don't ignore the homeless. I give what I can & what's appropriate. Whether it be food to a food bank, clothing or even the beer I'm not going to finish...
I'm just back from Seattle & while I was a little surprised by the number of homeless people (there weren't that many but more than I was used to) I found it a very safe city. Vancouver also nice and slightly fewer homeless. Apparently the temperate climate and moderate winters attract those without a home. Thought Seattle was a mix of Canada and the US and has an outdoorsy, relaxed, civil fairly hip vibe to it too.
problem with the homeless eh? can't stand being harangued for your hard-earned dollars? tired of that money being spent on cigarettes, beer, and maybe even, omygod! crack! let me break it down for you all, as you all seem a little deluded. in our western culture we have been taught to despise poverty, we see it as a sickness, and we do our very best to distance ourselves from it. the homeless crack addict on the street is nothing more than a festering sore to the eyes of those never haven been in a similar circumstance.
but have some humanity, you don't attack the commercials streaming across your tv screens, or across every marketable surface available, when THEY try to ask for your money. why it so repulsive when that same act takes a human form, with no illusions or trickery involved? at least you can see exactly where your money is going in that case. why do they drink so much? try sleeping on the pavement and see how you feel in the morning. who decided that you were so high and mighty to micromanage exactly where every penny you dish out ends up?
i'll stop with the rhetorical questions now, and offer some solid advice. give them your money, but get something out of it. make them play you a song, or recite a poem, or tell you their life story. make it clear what you're going to give them, and what you're going to take. once the exchange has occurred, walk away. if they try to ask for more, then they are in the wrong, and make that clear to them. believe it or not, even homeless people have morals, and will honor a deal just as well as any other human.
I work with homeless people as a social worker, so I'm alarmed by the complaints people are posting about agressive/negative encounters with the homeless in Seattle. I agree that the homeless in downtown Seattle are more obnoxious than in other cities, especially in the touristy area west of Pine Street around Pike Place Market. This is an area where locals don't generally hang out after dark. However, they are concentrated there because it is near services, not because they want to attack you. It's true that they shouldn't hassle you for money, but it's also true that you don't have to be a victim. I've never had a bad experience because I keep the interaction brief and polite. If someone hassles you, say "sorry, no thank you" in a sweet, polite tone and disengage. If you react negatively or disrespectfully (grimacing, acting offended, arguing, yelling, insulting them... all of which I've seen before!), they will react the same toward you. Remember that these people have been through a lot of bad things, which have shaped the way they interact with those they view as having money and social status. If you react like the enemy, they will see you as an enemy. If you choose to fight them physically or verbally, they will always win! If you react respectfully, they will treat you like-wise. Most have politely responded "have a nice day". All have left me in peace. That being said, if you are worried about exposing young children to this sort of encounter, there are plenty of other places in Seattle that would be better suited than the downtown area. I certainly hated being dragged there by my parents when I was little...
I took a vacation to Seattle with my three children last August and was horrified by what I encountered! Every public park is infested with urine soaked bums, drinking, begging, yelling and in general exhibiting extreme antisocial behavior. The playgounds were littered with reeking human feces and the bathrooms are not safe. My ten year old daughter witnessed a grown man of about 50 deficate near a rose bush in park by the Space Needle. This city is NOT a place to take children. It is a scary, dirty, nasty place filled shiftless panhandlers who scream and yell if you do not give them a dollar or two. My son still has bad dreams about the three bums that chased my husband off 'their turf' near the warf.
I've lived in the Seattle area for over 20 years. I admit we do have a lot of homeless and transients that are looking for a handout. My advice is to not look like a tourist. I've traveled to the biggest cities in the world (Tokyo, London, Bangkok) and I try to look like a local (a little tough in Asia). What I mean is dress like the locals do (do some research), don't carry a $1,500 digital SLR around your neck, keep your maps and guidebooks in your purse or pocket...use some common sense. Keep your fancy jewelry and watches in the hotel lock box. You probably won't have a problem, but flow with the river, don't fight it. I am a photographer and was carrying my Canon F1 with a big lens mounted to my monopod in the Pioneer Square area maybe 15 years ago. I walked by a homeless person and he said, "How about I just take that camera from you." "How about I just hit you over the head with my monopod" I wanted to say, but I ignored the obviously drunk down-on-his-luck man and just kept walking. No trouble, but flaunting expensive items around people that are broke is not a great idea. Blend in and just keep walking.
Used to, whenever I would go someplace, if I ever ran into a panhandler, they would normally ask for a quarter, fifty cents, etc. These guys/girls in Seattle live the high life! They ask for 2 dollars or more! It doesn't matter where you go, but they heaviest concentration of panhandlers I found were around the Space Needle. Remember, it's your hard earned money they are asking for, so don't give them money.
Additional Note: I have had several folks comment on this page advising me of my insensitivity. This is certainly not the case. So, I will clarify this the best way I can: The homeless are a needy population. They fall into 2 categories: Those who can, but won't try to better themselves; and those who are trying very hard every day to make ends meet. I ABSOLUTELY HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH HOMELESS PEOPLE IN GENERAL. What I have a problem with, is them asking for money. If you need something to eat, medical care, or whatever, I would be more than happy to assist you in that endeavor. But I will stand firm by not giving money. My trust has been broken too many times by folks asking for money to get food, but wind up buying a pack of smokes and a large 32 OZ Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull. Folks need to get together to develop work programs for homeless people who are trying to make it. Contact your senator or representative and tell them how bad these folks need help.
I also want to add that I was homeless for several months 10 years ago living out of a 1990 Ford Mustang. I collected aluminum cans and worked 3 jobs at minimum wage until I made enough money to pay for me to go to the Police Academy. After which, I landed a $40,000 a year job and got back on my feet. For you folks who are struggling trying to make ends meet, hang in there...your break will come, just like mine did. For those who don't want to better themselves, i pray you have a change of heart.
I’ve never considered homelessness a threat but you can be advised that there is some of it in Seattle and you can judge yourself accordingly. I would think it’s a lot like Vancouver, Canada where the climate makes it easier to be homeless. The mild weather is pretty good for them. Try being homeless in northern Canada, it’s just not a good idea!
I did walk a lot downtown and the most I experienced was the odd one asking for change and stuff like that. I generally don’t have much change but when I did I would chuck what I had from time to time. Some where clearly nicer than others so it was all in their presentation for me!
Panhandling is a problem in Seattle because there are no city ordinances that outlaw it specifically (though there is a "no-sitting" ordinance meant to discourage it).
But some "panhandlers" are actually out on the street selling a local paper called Real Change. It is a paper produced and sold by the local homeless population, and vendors get to keep a commission for the papers they sell. So feel good about supporting those vendors if you find them. (Just make sure they are wearing their identification badges and not asking for money beyond the price of the paper you buy.)