[Ed note: Several weeks back, a reader, Anne Leache, wrote in and said she had reached out to a local homeless woman in front of QFC, and was interested in sharing the story she had heard. We of course welcomed the story. As Anne dug in, though, things became more complex. This is her story.]
As a Wallingford resident, avid walker, and business patron, I pass through the Wallingford Ave. and 45th intersection on a regular basis. For two years, I have seen the same young, blond homeless woman sitting or standing outside of the QFC hoping for a handout. She always has a gentle smile and despondent sadness in her eye. I have always wanted to help her, but I never knew how. Finally, I decided to simply pray for her. A few weeks later, I walked by and introduced myself and my children and learned that her name is Adrian.
During a conversation with several of my girlfriends at the Grizzled Wizard two weeks ago, Adrian’s situation was mentioned with the question of why we don’t do anything to help the people right in front of us, when we are often donating to others around the world. That simple statement gave me the courage to find a way to help Adrian. That night I went to bed and was awakened at four in the morning with the thought, “Hey, I can get her story, find out what she needs, put it on the Wallyhood blog, and our awesome neighbors can work together to help her out.”
The next morning I was jazzed up and ready to go! I had a plan! With a skip in my step, I got up to the QFC, and there she was. I was excited to tell her my idea, and I saw her face brighten as I did. She asked what would happen if there were negative comments, and I thought, “Why would there be negative comments? People in this neighborhood want to help. If they know why you are here, and what you need, they will rally behind you.”
It didn’t take long, and I talked her into sharing her story. Over the next week, we spoke daily, and she shared her life and history with me. She also wrote her story out. It is a tragic litany of divorced parents, her father getting killed in a motorcycle accident, her mother turning her away after her father’s death, her father’s retirement money being signed over to his girlfriend, with nothing left for Adrian. With her last two dollars she ended up on a bus and got off in Wallingford because she was afraid to go downtown. That was two years ago, and she has been here ever since. The hopeful part of her story was that she has housing starting May 13th in a shelter on Aurora.
I got so caught up in her life, it was all I could talk about with my friends. I told them the tragedy and the horrors of sleeping on the streets, of being turned away from coffee shops and false accusations made by store clerks. I had the final version ready to submit to the awesome Wallyhood people on Sunday night, and I imagined the positive feedback she would get as soon as it hit the street.
I was so excited about it, I couldn’t stop relating every detail to my girlfriend Jennifer at dinner Sunday night. Our kids were entertaining each other, our husbands were out and about, and we had that rare and cherished time to talk. After I gave her all of the minutia, Jennifer, in her kind and gentle way said, “Have you done a background check on her?” Well…. no, of course not. I trust her. “Well it would make your story more credible if you had some proof to back it up.” By the way, Jennifer is a reporter on NPR and a very smart and awesome lady! I totally agreed thinking, “Yeah, that is a great idea. Adrian will love it!” I didn’t know her last name, but we could call the shelter and make sure she was scheduled to move in. As I was putting the dishes in the washer, Jennifer got the computer and in no time, we had the number to her upcoming home on the classy 99.
After three rings, a man answered the phone. I briefly told him what I was doing, and he was happy to check his registrar. Then he asked the name again. Finally he said, “I am sorry, but I don’t have an Adrian on my wait list.” WHAT????
I left my kids with Jennifer and quite nearly RAN to the QFC. Fortunately she lives a five minute walk away. Adrian wasn’t there, but another man was sitting in her spot, so I asked him if he knew where I could find her. I have learned the panhandlers know each other and each other’s stories and are often quite loquacious. John fit the stereotype and was very affable and informed. He knew Adrian, and without my asking another question, he told me more than I ever wanted to know, and the real tragic story came out.
I did a little more investigating, and learned that there are a plethora of homeless shelters for women in Seattle. There is no reason for a woman to be homeless, especially for two years, and most likely, Adrian isn’t homeless. She has a boyfriend (an attractive and friendly young man with a blue and white baseball cap. I had the fortune to meet him several days later as he was filling out job applications on the curb while Adrian was in the bathroom), and apparently, she lives with him.
The frustrated manager of the QFC told me that he sees her getting dropped off in a car with her bags at the store early in the morning. He has done everything he can to diffuse the situation, but the police can’t do anything as long as she is on public property. John told me how wonderful the neighbors of Wallingford are, and that it is easy to average $100 a day, just sitting around with a sign. He also told me that in the house where he lives just behind the QFC, there are several rooms for rent for $310 a month – just $10 a day, an easy score for a panhandler in our neighborhood.
So where does Adrian’s money go? Word on the street is smoking the big H. Heroin. When I gently confronted her the next day with the information that I had uncovered, she denied it all, but when I asked her to prove to me that what she was saying was true, she refused. I explained to her that if I was going to tell her story and take a stand for her, my reputation was on the line, and I needed proof. She was unwilling to assist. I offered for her to take a drug test to corroborate her story, and she said that was too personal. She also vehemently denied having a boyfriend, and insisted she had a place to live lined-up and would be off the Wallingford streets as of May 13th.
As we were conversing, a young meticulously dressed and adorned man in his late teens or early twenties walked up and was standing next to the dumpster waiting for Adrian and the other seemingly homeless man she was with. I walked away. An exchange took place between the three people I left behind. I returned to Jennifer who was across the street watching my kids. As I was filling her in on the conversation, the two men that had momentarily been with Adrian left in different directions. I can’t say with certainty what happened because I wasn’t close enough to hear or see the details, but my newly opened eyes and jaded heart suspect that John and the store clerks are right; drugs are being dealt and used in our neighborhood, just outside the store where I buy milk for my family.
As I reflect back on the situation, I feel naive and disappointed. I have always been one of those people who wants to help save the world, and I felt sorry for the jaded older generations who smirked or shook their heads at my antics. I want to continue to see the world as a hopeful place, but as my vision clears, I understand the sage wisdom of age more and more. I would love to help Adrian off the streets and see her fulfill her dream of delivering babies, but until she is ready to take the initiative, the only thing I can do is exactly what I started with… offer a smile, a prayer, and keep my money in my pocket.
(Photo by Curtis Cronn)