Finding Community on the Streets: Mike Stone's Testimony
Project for Carrying Home: Latinx Worlds, Media, and Education with professors María Isabel Morales and Anne Fischel.
The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington, Fall 2019.
In collaboration with Mike Stone and the unhoused community of Olympia.
Tenant Rights rally outside the Olympia City Hall.
Community members called for much-needed protections for renters, such as payment plans for
move-in fees, as well as rent control.
MIKE STONE’S TESTIMONY
I was living up at Lake Cushman, with a couple guys I was working with. They were both welders and had helped me get a job as an assistant. But after a year or so they moved on to another job and I couldn’t pay the rent. I squatted in the Lake Cushman house for as long as I could, but eventually I had to leave there and become homeless, you know, bonafide.
I went to Shelton and found a homeless shelter, a place that was warm and dry and safe to sleep at. There I met this girl named Hillary, she was very crazy. And she needed a friend so I became her friend. Nobody was friends with her, cuz she was crazy. They got tired of hanging out with a crazy person, now can you please turn it off? You can't turn off crazy. You can't shut it down. She had been traumatized from an early age and she had suffered a lot. People close to her abused her. So I would stand with her during any confrontation. The cops knew her by her first name, because she would be really loud at night, screaming things she was remembering: “they kidnapped me!” And people don't like having that kind of attention so they'd take it out on her. She was a klepto, she would see something sparkly and just grab onto it, and people would take it as a direct attack. Anytime she’d say something was hers, she’d believe it… but she’s another story altogether.
One of the encounters we had with the cops in Shelton, it was late at night and I was in a friend’s truck with Hillary, and they told me, could you just drive her out of here? And I didn't have a license, so I was kind of surprised. And they asked me to take Hillary and go. Ok, well, where should I go? And they said, “Olympia”. We would talk to the cops at least three to four times a week, and they were tired of dealing with her. Everywhere we’d go, she was crazy. I learned that it wasn't her fault; she's seen things way more terrorizing than things I could ever imagine.
Hillary actually inspired me to live better, to be like a friend that was really there, even when things got uncomfortable. And I wanted to do that for her. And because of our adventures, I ended up here. And she, since then moved on to Western State, cuz she was getting beat up at the mitigation site because everybody was so close together and she was like a girl playing dress-up in a parking lot, that's all it was. She didn't really understand people's limits or personal boundaries and she would get attacked, by girls. You see, they kept treating Hillary like she was coherent, but it wasn't fair. I would have to pre-explain the situation to a lot of people, and they wouldn't believe me until they met her. I wanted to reintegrate her back into talking to people, that was my goal, and a lot of people were on board with trying to be creative about helping Hillary get through her traumas. But she was always being used by other guys, all they would have to do was show her a little bit of drugs and she would do whatever just to be high, you know, that was her thing. She was promiscuous, to say the least. I had to reinvent myself as a man if I was going to walk with her, where my pride wasn't going to get in the way of things. I didn't want my own insecurities and weaknesses to be our demise, to cost me a lesson.
When I met Brandy she was my go-to person when I was escaping from Hillary. Cuz Hillary was getting violent. And I think she was just acting out from what was happening to her, I couldn't keep an eye on her all the time. Hillary became more like someone I had to look out for. So anyway me and Brandy were friends, before anything, we were friends. And it just happened that way. She's independent, headstrong. I really admire the things that she does.
My time is worth a lot to me, and I’ve realized that I shouldn't squander it with people that aren't going to return what I shared with them into the world, they're just gonna throw it away. Why would I want to do that? Why would I want to put my seeds in infertile soil where they're just going to whither? These are precious seeds that were given to me, as my birthright. I am 49 and I've never created children of my own, so I gotta pass on something to the world. I gotta honor my mother who raised me right, somehow…. She died in my arms in 2015. Diabetes. Me and my dad were holding her, when she passed away. I was lucky enough to get a month to visit before she passed. Hospiss is the way to go, I guess. You die in your own home. I gotta make sure I do right by her. My dad and I don't get along, not anymore. Were just always at odds, me and my dad. I don't think I’d be able to see him. He doesn't understand... me. We were never that close. But he's a good man. So… the street community is my family. I have 200 family members now. And I've been able to make a difference, even just a little bit, which helps me be happy; to know that I can influence people's lives to do good, if I can, when I try.
I have some friends that if I were to have a brand new job at the Outback as a waiter, they would come and say, hey I brought all our other friends and they want to order from you and they want to patronize your success and they want you to succeed, by the proper channels. And then there are other friends who are not so much friends that say to you, I know you got this brand new job and I'm here to schmooze on all the free stuff you can get, even though it’s at the risk of your success. You gotta realize who you want to prosper. When you surround yourself with absolute value, people that will punish you if you're full of shit. That's what I need. Cuz if I was to spar with myself I'd be just, too soft. You know, when you have a sparring partner that's a gift; training to fight with a partner who’s willing to test you as much as you are willing to test them.
Tent City, in the shadow of the brand-new "affordable" apartment building, which was almost completely empty at the time.
We were some of the first people in Tent City, and I ju