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On the walk from my apartment to campus, I pass by the home of man I can hear but cannot see. He lives in a make-shift tent—more rope and tarp and tattered blankets than Coleman—strung between bare trees on a small plot of level ground cut into a steep embankment above the Burke Gilman trail. His home can’t be seen from the road above and, when the trees leaf out, it won’t be seen by people like me, walking or biking the trail.

Most mornings, when I get within 50 yards his home, I can hear him shouting. He is very loud. It’s hard to describe these wordless outbursts. The first time I heard him, I heard anger, and I was scared. I cast glances up the embankment and walked faster, hurrying past his place, looking to see if there were other people down the trail in case I got in trouble. Nothing happened. He didn’t emerge from his home. I heard him the next morning, the one after that, and after that, and after a while, I didn’t hear anger any more, and I wasn’t scared. I heard frustration, and then I heard pain. And today, I heard words.

“Please leave me alone,” he yelled from inside his tent. Then “Please stop talking to me.”

I stopped on the path to see if anyone was up there bothering him, encroaching on his patch of land. There was no one.

“Please stop talking to me,” he yelled, again and again. And I thought of all the voices he must hear. And how he, like all of us, yearns for a quietness of the mind, a calm place to reside inside our heads. But that for him, there was no such place.

*The image I am using is not of this man’s home. I felt that taking (and I use that verb purposely) that photograph would be an invasion of his privacy. The image I used is one that appeared elsewhere, but it approximates the feeling of his place.

Statistics are hard to come by and can be massaged in many ways. By some accounts, Seattle is the 16th most populous city in the U.S. with the 3rd highest population of unhoused.


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