Scared sober at the DESC homeless shelter

If you're homeless and need a bed for the night, and you’ve been boozing instead of taking your antipsychotic meds, the overnight shelter at the Downtown Emergency Services Center is your last resort. It can also be a path to real changes.

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More Help More Fun Judy Lightfoot

Plymouth House of Healing

Plymouth House of Healing Courtesy of Plymouth Healing Communities

Tim Weglin

Tim Weglin Judy Lightfoot

The guys hanging out in the Downtown Emergency Service Center overnight shelter when I arrived one December night in 2009 looked way older and weirder than me. But I was a homeless, clinically depressed alcoholic at the end of my rope, so I fit right in.

I told myself I was different, though, and I teamed up with a few other guys who liked feeling superior to our fellow sufferers. In our joking conversations my group divided everybody else at the shelter into the crazies, the junkies, the stinkers, the itchers, and the hackers.

The itchers, hackers, and stinkers were to be avoided like the plague because some of them probably had it, and the crazies were to be watched because there’s no TV at the shelter. One would stand in the smoke room, point his finger like a gun, extend his arm, and roar “BOOM!!!” Then he’d grit his teeth and snarl in the direction of his imaginary shot. We named him Aqua Man on account of the wet-suit top he wore. Another would walk up to residents one by one, look deep into their eyes, and hum a long, drawn-out “Hmm-m-m!”

Over 200 people sleep each night at the DESC shelter. They’re admitted on an emergency basis, meaning the streets would be their only alternative bed. The shelter is like what Robert Frost said about home — “the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.” You aren’t turned away unless the shelter’s full or you’re violent.

The staff generally does a good job of enforcing the rules, which are No Drugs, No Drinking, No Fighting, and No Exchanges Of Any Kind. One guy was kicked out for exchanging 15 cents for a coffee. Smoking is permitted because if shelter clients were allowed outside after curfew to smoke, there’s no telling what they’d bring back in with them. Keeping us indoors is good for the general public, too, who don’t have to see us lined up on the street like auditioners for a reality show called The Wrong Stuff.

The smoke room was the gathering area for people-watching as well as for clandestine drug activity and cancer. There’s a term used in the smoke room called “shorts,” meaning the last few puffs or quarter-inch of a cigarette, as in “Can I get shorts on that cig?” Guys in my group liked to apply the term to other things, as in “Can I get shorts on that bagel?” “Can I get shorts on that soda?” and my personal favorite, “Can I get shorts on them shorts?”

The men’s dorm accommodates 130 men in bunk beds, wearing 130 pairs of dirty socks on 130 pairs of smelly feet. At night a symphony of bodily noises is always playing, and the orchestra is occasionally paid homage with lighter flames twinkling in the blackness like an Aerosmith concert. The lighters belong to crack smokers and junkies cooking up bedtime snacks they hope to get away with because staff numbers decline in the evenings.

The first time I closed my eyes in that dormitory, lying in my assigned bunk, the tears ran down the side of my face into my ears. How the hell did I end up here?

Before I became homeless, I was engaged to be married and had worked at a big hotel near Sea-Tac for almost two years with a perfect attendance record. I was a functioning addict, single-handedly trying to reverse America’s depression (and my own) by injecting all my disposable income into the economy via my dealer. After wild weekend parties that were actually 36-hour benders during which I consumed diverse lovely drugs, my fiancée would ask me if I was OK, fear in her eyes.

Maybe addiction was one of the things that helped me come across as what my friends call a nice guy. People like me, but I have a hard time liking myself. The darkness has several tie-down points attached to my soul and tugs at them on a regular basis.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 2:19 a.m. Inappropriate

A moving and very well-written piece. Congratulations many times over.

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 9:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Am so glad you have made it back...keep up the hard work and ewffort I know it takes.

buddycats

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 9:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Excellent work, Mr. Weglin: both the struggle and the writing -- the former evidence of rare determination, the latter indicative of major talent. Best wishes for ever more success and fulfillment.

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 9:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Weglin, just wonderful. Good for you! Like Mr. Rogers used to say, "I knew you could do it"

Mark/The Geezer

Geezer

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 10:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Very good Tim. Many years ago, I and the others that could afford treatment, were carted to meetings at places you describe. I found some real life truths there. You are already a writer. College will teach you little. I could say "One day" and all that... but you are are on your way.
Bless you and keep on
-d

dman

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 11:25 a.m. Inappropriate

What a wonderful story. Truly a pleasure to read. Best wishes, Timothy!

Adam Vogt

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 12:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Weglin -

I printed your essay because I want to give it to my 11-year-old son to read. I think you have a lot to say that will be good for him to hear (in a much more enjoyable way than his mother's lectures) and he is currently off the internet until he catches up on his homework. Thank you for doing the work and for sharing -- your voice is important.

namulondo

Posted Thu, Mar 10, 8:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Weglin:
It is so cool to see you made it. Some of the talks we had at DESC (the bald guy in CD)were when you were in your darkest moments. But you never gave up, and I was confident from the moment I first met you, you were going to recover. But look where you are, not only recovered but excelling! Great writing. I know you will carry the positive message of "Yes you can!" with you the rest of your life. Please remember those still in the throes of despair. Okay? You have a lot of hope to give them.
No need for best wishes is there?

beowulf

Posted Fri, Mar 11, 5:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Weglin, keep on doing what you're doing. From what you write, you bottomed out & are coming back up. More power to you as you continue your process!

Posted Fri, Mar 11, 8:03 p.m. Inappropriate

You have no idea, Tim, how many people will read your story. Thanks. I have a sister who was sober, 17 years. She returned to drinking, socially, one glass at a time, three years later, gone completely. Hang in there, and never let your guard down.

Posted Sat, Mar 12, 9:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Wow! Now that's a piece of writing. Thank you, Mr. Weglin, for your honesty.

Farrell

Posted Sat, Mar 12, 1:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Well written and it brings to mind the fact that most if not all of the shelters and energency centers have the early morning rule of 'up and out'. Hence, the libraries, grocery store entrances and eating areas, parks, street corners, and ATM locations, are the de facto daytime hangouts. Funding sources and daily cleaning chores dictate many rules that lead to the daytime presence of 'homeless everywhere in Seattle'. A daytime designated place with its own rules might be the answer and relief to so many storefronts, customers, and pedestrians who encounter Tim and his cohorts every day.

animalal

Posted Sat, Mar 12, 1:51 p.m. Inappropriate

@animalal: "Everyone needs to be someplace," as a NAMI-Greater Seattle client remarked to me once, so the answer and relief you propose could be a good stopgap. A far better one is more affordable housing for families and individuals so that people aren't forced into homelessness in the first place. The declines in low-cost housing and SROs over the past 30 years, added to stagnant or sinking wages and the loss of blue-collar jobs as industries were sent overseas, have been a perfect storm of causes of homelessness.

The critical factor for Tim was a mental illness he tried to self-medicate with alcohol. If mental health services hadn't been destroyed by public policies established - like the severe cuts in federal housing subsidies - during the Reagan administration, and if mental illness wasn't so cruelly stigmatized in our culture, Tim might have been helped to solve his problem before he ever became homeless. A big if.

That aside, only about 20% of homeless people are chronically or episodically homeless because of substance abuse or mental health problems. This leaves the remaining 80%, or hundreds of thousands of people, stuck in differently tragic circumstances over which they have so little control it's as though they were disabled, too.

Posted Wed, Mar 30, 5:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for all the support to thoese who have read my piece. Sorry it took so long to respond. Im now working on a piece about 2 weeks I spent in Honolulu,thinking it would be easy to be homeless there. Im calling it Dark Paradise. Thanks again for all the support I have recieved from your comments, it means a lot me. An awful lot. Take care.

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