Beggars / Panhandlers / Homeless, Seattle
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.)
Website: http://www.realchangenews.org/Add to your Trip Planner
Perhaps neither a warning nor danger, but Seattle has a high degree of homeless people wandering the downtown streets as with many big cities on the West coast. The homeless often compete with the tourists for choice space in public areas such as parks, public benches and squares overlooking the city’s famous sights. Perhaps it’s a little perverse, but I do enjoy the dichotomous mix of the homeless amongst the tourists. And when the cops come on the scene, it gets even better.
I think downtown Seattle is pretty safe during the day, especially in the tourist areas. But I saw lots of beggars and homeless people in downtown Seattle, especially if you head away from the tourist areas. So beware and don't assume Seattle is the safest city on Earth. But definitely enjoy Seattle, its parks and views, etc.; Seattle is definitely not a run-down city by any means.
There are alot of homeless people in Seattle, and they can be occasionally aggressive. In areas like the University District you will run into all of the young homeless kids who came to Seattle looking for fame....I wouldn't recommend walking around alone at night downtown.
There is a real problem with homeless people in the city. Although it seems like the right thing to do, do not give these people money it will only contribute to the problem - there are shelters and food pantries available for them.
Beware of begging dogs! Actually, there are many homeless people (and dogs) in the city, but they really don't bother you. I'm one of those who always gives them some money anyway, and how could anyone pass by this fella?! At least he was warm with his sweater and hat on.....
There were a /lot/ of homeless people while I was there, most of them exhibiting extreme antisocial tendencies (open destruction of public/private property, brawling in the streets, sleeping on any available surface). Due to the large amount of tourism, the homeless aren't the least bit afraid to approach people. Seattle discourages giving people hand-outs -- it's dangerous for you and you're not really helping the individual. If someone asks you for money or any other property, it's advised to tell them no.