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At Home in the Parking Lot

Millie Jefferson

Sarah Gustavus

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Joe and Angela
(Sarah Gustavus)
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Home for the holidays, of course, means different things to different people. For more than 80 homeless people in Kirkland, Wash., "home" during this holiday season is a church parking lot. In the Seattle area, there are two officially-sanctioned tent cities. They're part of the area's shelter system. The tent cities move every three months or so. They're collectively-run by residents, and have strict codes of conduct. They also have things like garbage service and showers. And unlike most homeless shelters, couples can stay together in the tents. That makes life seem a little more like home...especially during the holidays. Producer Sarah Gustavus went to meet the folks who call Kirkland's tent city home.

Angela Marshall: We are in Tent City, and I am taking this fine lady on a tour of our fair city. We're looking up on a little, small little hillside and we're seeing rows of tents. Everybody gets to name their tent and that's how we know where everyone's tent is. People make up all kinds of fun names like Aloha, Fun City. Ours is Camp Marshall. Everybody has their own names and their own style. You know some people decorate it up real neat for the holidays...you know you make it your own style.

James: Everybody here are people just like anybody else. They just don't have a house, and they just don't have a car. Some have jobs and some don't. But everybody needs something. A roof over their head, a family to call a family a Christmas to call a Christmas. A lot of people here, their Christmas is their tent. I am going to have a Christmas whether I am in a tent or not.

Stephanie Hanson: You know, I have never been homeless before, so it's kind of a new thing to me. It's not the same as having your own place where you can just go to the kitchen or make yourself a pizza or something like that, because here we just have a microwave and coffeepot. So you know you don't have that luxury. You know it's a major culture shock for somebody who has never been homeless before.

You know, it wasn't always this way. I had a husband and I have a son. We had been living in Spokane, and we had a two bedroom apartment, and everything was great. My son was in school. Then something happened. I had a nervous breakdown, and I decided to leave my family. And so I lost my family, and that's what happens. My son has been in foster care for a year and a half.

Producer: So what are you feeling right now?

Stephanie Hanson: Really depressed. Actually, because it's the holiday season, and you want to be with your family--and you want to be indoors with your family and putting up a tree and Christmas lights and all that kind of stuff. And I am living in a tent. You try to keep your spirits up, and you try to be happy about things, but it's hard when you don't know what to expect or when you might get out of the situation.

Adama: I do mortgages and I do loans, and right now with the defaulting market and everything that is going on here closing deals doesn't happen often. I did go and visit the shelters, but the shelters don't work for me because with the shelters, how it works is you have to check in around seven o'clock or something like that, and you have to be out by five in the morning. But, see, it may work for others, but it doesn't work for me because I have belongings and I also want to keep a steady job. And if my hours don't match with those hours, then I pretty much don't have a place to stay. We have people that work for Microsoft coming in here, but because they got a divorce from their wife or something like that they lose everything, they come here rather than going to their friends. So, you have a lot of different people here.

Joe: We donated blood today to buy our mother a Christmas present. We didn't take that money and do whatever with it, say buy candy or something, and we didn't do anything with it. The $30 we got we spent it on Christmas presents for them in good spirit because we love them. And ever since then, you know, our tent has fallen apart twice, our air mattress went flat, we almost got hit by a Mack truck and all these things are coming upon us...and we were like, geez, is it ever going to stop?

We do good, bad stuff happens, but you just gotta keep on doing good.

James: I am going to spend my Christmas with somebody else, and I am going to give them a Christmas. I went down and got a tree for another family and presents, and I helped her get presents for her kids. I am going to go down and have Christmas with them. And that's important to see those kids smile and see their faces light up at that Christmas tree and the lights and the Christmas they thought they weren't going to have. That's my Christmas.

***

The songs used in this piece were "Homebase" and "Colores," by Dzihan and Kamien, from the CD "Freaks and Icons" on Six Degrees Records.

  • Music Bridge:
    Khali
    Artist: Alejandro Franov
    CD: Khali (Staubgold)

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