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 just watched people collect around us. There were no walls, there were curtains. It was almost like a hive mind was developing. People would speak on the things you were thinking about. Your neighbors, everybody in the parking lot was becoming the same energy, same frequency, and people were synchronizing, as they do. That's what people do when they get together, they synchronize. Especially if you have music or some kind of cadence. People just naturally tend to do that, like magnets. Like magnets do to steel.
Before Tent City there was kind of a distance between homeless people. Kind of a silent war. People had the attitudes of “cops are out to get me”. The cops go after whoever made themselves a target, but when everybody came together it was like: Ok, there's all the homeless. We can move on. We don't have to look at what they're doing, they're right there in a fishbowl. And I think everybody here benefitted in ways that they will not admit, cuz I’ve never seen cops harass anybody at all up here in the encampments, they're actually there to help us. There is no war, the boogeyman is not out to get us. Now the cops can do their jobs easier, cuz we’re easily found. It's good. It seems to me that the cops are understanding of the homeless condition. Talking about the bridge, I've even heard a couple of them say “this is the cleanest I've ever seen it”. We work on things together as a community now, and in some ways there's more order than there ever was before in recent homeless camps. It's a good thing. And my goal is to take that awareness and push it further. We don't have to pretend who we are.
We don't have to buy clothes. All our clothing needs are taken care of. Our housing needs are taken care of. We don't have to cook a lot of the time, we get a great food program around here. There’s all this extra time on your hands to go be a fuckin’ superhero. Why not, you know? Go help people that can't afford to pay you, try that. See what happens. Go find people that qualify for your help, and then do it again. You'll feel happy. You don't have to worry about the basics. Its just weird, you know, not having a need. All you have is wants. You want this, you want that, but you don't need it cuz it's all taken care of. And it'll change your attitude. I'm not saying that everybody should be homeless but, you know, downsizing is a good idea. Get rid of the clutter in your life, those possessions that change your day: oh, you gotta go home because you left something on, or unlocked. You realize that an inanimate object is commanding you to do that. It's not really the case but people believe that to be true. It's just something that was made in China. It just all becomes trash. I don't need none of that shit.
When somebody goes through a lack period, when they just don't have what they want or need or what they think is important to their life, when they come in contact with that item they're gonna hoard it. Sometimes to give it to other people who they think would need it or just so they would never run out of whatever it is. Hoarding is a disease and it’s contagious, so you gotta nip it in the bud. See those trash bags over there? Those are all clothes that I haven't washed in weeks. When we have a need, we just go to the places that give us free clothes and we just build from there or find something in the dumpster that's not too filthy, or repurpose it or, you know, put it to use. You'd be amazed what you find in a dumpster. If you just get through the “oh my god, I'm getting in a dumpster”. You get over that, it's not that bad.
You can do anything if you’re geared up right. If you're gonna go to the moon, make sure your space suit has no holes. That's all you gotta do. We are creative problem solvers, we can do anything we want. Sometimes you gotta work towards that goal more than other goals but, why not? If a genie were to appear in front of me cuz I rubbed a lamp, cuz I was cleaning it or whatever, and the genie popped out and tried to give me three wishes, I would give them back. I'd give them back. I don't want any shortcuts. I don't want to cheat myself out of lessons. I got here because of my choices. Definitive juxtaposition. Like it or not, I am the reason I'm here, right here in this spot. I'm not a victim. I don't need to pay everybody's tuition, I've got my own things to learn.
The dumpster at the entrance to the 4th Ave Bridge Encampment.
Being homeless is an experience that I'll never forget. I'm better for it, I believe. When you think about it, people really aren’t alive until they are way out of their comfort zone. Those snapshots that I have, memories of living, are from when I was outside of my normal conditions, when things around me were different. You don’t know what's gonna happen, it's just up to you – that's when you’re alive. You have to reach a little deeper than you normally do, and that's when you really live. Where I'm at is a culmination of my choices, and I should celebrate that. Around here in the encampment there aren't so many shields from reality. Wherever you are– you're here, you're there– just bring yourself with you.
All the wealth that's been accumulated in the hands of the rich people, and less and less of it in the hands of the American people, is a culmination of years and years, maybe hundreds of years of a silent or secret war. To me it's not about society: I want to talk about what you can do, I want to talk about what I can do, I want to talk about what we can do. And that's really all we should talk about. We need awareness: of the issues, and the powers that we have within us to solve them. You gotta get in touch with yourself, the journey is inward. Everybody has their own powers, but religion and society try to convince us that we don't have any power. They share with us information but just enough so that they can maintain power over us, and I don't believe in that. If I’m gonna share information, I’m gonna do it to the best of my ability. If we play chess I’m gonna teach you how to beat me so I can get off my ass and be creative. That's how I wanna live; I want to be a conduit, not a container. There's unlimited potential in a conduit— whatever is flowing through, it can be unlimited. A container is just a single unit, shut up so it can keep what it has. And that will diminish, possibly. At least, that's where we're headed.
When you make a decision, I believe it comes from one of two places, love or fear. And a lot of the decisions we make now days are out of fear: You just bought something that you didn't think you were gonna buy. Why did you buy it? because you feared the loss of that deal. Come on in now and buy this or you'll never have this deal again! – Oh shit I gotta buy that! – Why did you buy that? – Cuz it was a good deal!
The closest house to downtown Olympia and their tent neighbors.
WORKING LIST OF OLYMPIA BUSINESSES & ORGANIZATIONS
THAT HELP SUPPORT THE LOCAL UNHOUSED COMMUNITY:
New Moon Cafe
Burial Grounds Cafe
HoHoHobos Holiday Workshop
Olympia Food Bank
Works in Progress
& the many individuals who give their time and resources toward helping to support the street community