[Homestead] 'richest country in the world part two
tonihawr at msn.com
Mon Nov 22 01:15:33 EST 2004
Sunday, November 21, 2004 - Page updated at 12:15 A.M.
"A gentle giant" finds way back, now helps others
By Jack Broom<mailto:jbroom at seattletimes.com> Seattle Times staff reporter
The man in the tattered green coat is obviously drunk - and obviously unhappy.
He has just been asked to leave a downtown homeless shelter where drunkenness is against the rules, and, wobbling from side to side, he is weighing whether to comply.
He shakes his head, starts to whine, stomps one foot.
Then he stares up at the Salvation Army shelter worker who asked him to leave. Perched above the room at a desk on a loading dock is 6-foot-5, 270-pound Haywood McRae, whose bright yellow sweat shirt, with a black stripe down each sleeve, seems only to emphasize his impressive size.
Polite but firm, McRae - a man whose boss calls him a gentle giant - repeats himself. "C'mon, sir, you know you can't stay here drunk like that. You know the rules."
Perhaps the man in the green coat is intimidated by McRae's size. Perhaps this is the first time all day someone has called him "sir." Perhaps he knows he may want to stay here tomorrow night and doesn't want to hurt his chances of getting back in.
For whatever reason, the potential confrontation is over before it begins, and with a shrug, the weaving wanderer heads back out into the night.
Chances are the man in the green coat doesn't know - or wouldn't care - that McRae, 36, knows the world of alcohol abuse from the inside, that McRae himself is dependent on the Salvation Army for food, shelter and a new opportunity.
This minimum-wage job, watching over a 52-bed shelter in the parking garage of the King County Administration Building four nights a week, is a first step back toward a productive life for McRae, a first step back from a tangle of lost jobs, lost hope and lost opportunities.
A Navy veteran of the first Persian Gulf War, McRae said his life was a wash of alcohol and crack cocaine from the time he left the service in 1992 until last summer, when he entered a program for veterans administered by King County and housed in the Salvation Army's William Booth Center.
So while one Salvation Army program, the William Booth Center, gives him a foundation, another - the shelter in the county garage - gives him the responsibility and opportunity of a job.
"The Salvation Army was here for me at the time that I needed it," McRae says simply. "This is one life that they have saved."
On any given day, the Salvation Army - and 11 other agencies that benefit from The Seattle Times Fund for the Needy - are helping to save and rebuild thousands of lives around King County.
Hungry families are given bags of groceries. Children are cared for in safe surroundings. Domestic-violence victims are given protection and empowerment. Seniors are served hot meals at home.
And to help break the cycles of abuse and poverty, skilled professionals and volunteers provide counseling, mentoring, tutoring and job training.
Today begins The Times' 26th annual campaign to assist those efforts.
>From the outside, it's sometimes too easy to view charity as a matter of us and them, as if those who provide social services and those who receive them are two separate species.
But McRae is living proof that those worlds intersect, and that assistance to those in need is not simply an expense, but an investment.
"I'm clean and sober now, so it's time for me to reach back and see who else I can help," McRae said. "Then they'll reach back and help someone else. It's all about somebody reaching back to help someone else."
The three-story William Booth Center, opened in 1992, looks like a small, plain hotel along Maynard Avenue South, on the industrial south edge of the Chinatown International District.
Inside, more than 190 men find shelter and hot meals. And in a half-dozen different programs, they begin to put the pieces of their lives back together, taking steps that could help them find jobs and housing of their own.
Though the building is relatively new, its mission is historic. The Salvation Army has been helping homeless men in Seattle since 1900, conducting those services for decades from the Harbor Light Center in Pioneer Square.
Forty-eight of the William Booth Center's residents live in apartments on the top two floors, in a transitional program in which they may stay up to two years, seeking employment and permanent housing. The rest of the Booth residents, including McRae, are in shorter-term programs in barracks-style accommodations on the ground floor.
In all, the center sheltered 1,155 men over the past year.
For McRae, home since August has been a metal-framed, lower-level bunk marked K-16, and a nearby narrow locker bearing the same designation. On top of the locker rests his small library of books, including his Life Application Study Bible, with 3-by-5 file cards of notes tucked inside, and Barron's Firefighter Exams, which he's studying with the hope of testing to apply for work as a Seattle firefighter.
He goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly.
Some of the men he lives with call him "Shaq," noting a resemblance to NBA star Shaquille O'Neal, and McRae doesn't mind the association. He was, after all, a standout center / forward at T. Wingate Andrews High School in his hometown of High Point, N.C.
Whatever future he might have found in basketball, however, was swamped by his drinking. After the Navy, he stumbled through assorted jobs on loading docks, in a paint factory, in a corrugated-box printing plant. There were other jobs he held so briefly they've vanished from memory.
He hit bottom last summer, with crack cocaine devouring his income and energy. For help, McRae turned to an older brother, a successful businessman in Philadelphia, and to God. "Once I started seeking him, it brought a whole new turning point in my life. The void I kept trying to fill with alcohol and drugs - he filled it."
But he still needed help finding a way back to a positive life. While staying with his brother, he searched the Internet for programs for veterans and learned about the opportunity for help in King County.
"He has a tenacity and a willingness to do what's necessary and what's suggested. That's a big help," said Joel Estey, a manager with King County Veterans Programs. "It's refreshing to see someone who has put so much thought into where they're going and how they're going to get there."
Every Friday through Monday, McRae catches a short nap after dinner, then with a co-worker heads to the King County Administration Building.
At 9 p.m., a security guard opens a gate along Jefferson Street and a small crew begins the process of turning the loading-dock area into a bare-bones shelter: no food, no TV, no services - just a grid of 52 green foam mats arrayed on large canvas tarps on the concrete floor, and access to a restroom, past the watchful eyes of the security guard.
At 9:30 p.m., McRae takes his place at a desk as men stream in and are checked off a list. If they're new to the shelter - and few of them are - a form is filled out with basic information, including whom to contact in the event of a medical emergency. The answer on many of the forms: "911."
Each man, as he is checked in, receives a gray wool blanket to use for the night, and then finds his own way to an open mat.
Within minutes, the bodies disappear underneath the blankets. A couple of men read. A few talk quietly to one another. Some talk to themselves.
At 10 p.m., most of the overhead fluorescent lights are switched off, though enough light remains that from McRae's vantage point, all of the mats can be observed.
Morning comes early to the shelter. The lights come back on at 4:30 a.m., and the area is to be cleared by 5 a.m. so county vehicles can begin using it as a loading dock again. The men must be awakened, turn in their blankets and head back onto the streets.
Harold Trujillo, the Salvation Army's shelter supervisor for the William Booth Center, explains why he entrusted McRae with the responsibility of helping manage the garage shelter.
"Some of the street folk can, for whatever reason, be a little hostile when receiving direction from authority," Trujillo said. "So what I look for is, in my terms, a gentle giant. He's a big fella but very courteous, very well-liked."
McRae, meanwhile, said that besides helping at the shelter, he wants to work with juvenile offenders, tapping the experiences of his own bad choices to help them in the challenges they face.
He's determined not to be a drain on his adopted community, but an asset to it. "It's just a great feeling to wake up and know that you don't have to drink or use drugs. And to know that you are somebody," he said. "I want to do what I can to share that."
Each month, the Salvation Army's campaign against hunger in King County includes:
920 bags of food distributed at the Renton Food Bank
4,731 meals prepared for low-income children at Camp Arnold, the Salvation Army's camp in Eatonville
900 lunches for seniors at the White Center Senior Center Facility
518 meals for low-income children at Little People Day Care
Food to 100 families through the Federal Way Community Center
During the holiday season, the effort also includes:
50 Thanksgiving baskets filled by the Eastside Community Center
More than 1,000 Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday dinners served to men, women and children
The number of homeless people in King County increased by about 12 percent from 2003 to 2004.
Between July 2003 and June 2004, more than 1.2 million people made approximately 6.4 million visits to food banks in the state - an increase of 5.3 percent in new clients from the previous year.
In King County, more than 31,000 children lived below the poverty line in 2003. Child Protective Services investigated reports of abuse or neglect involving 10,518 children under 18 in King County.
The monthly unemployment rates for the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area have ranged from 5.0 to 6.2 percent since the beginning of this year, consistently higher than the national average.
Sources: The state Emergency Food Assistance Program, Seattle / King County Coalition for the Homeless, Department of Social and Health Services, 2003 American Community Survey and the Bureau of Labor Statistics
Compiled by Times researcher Gene Balk
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom at seattletimes.com<mailto:jbroom at seattletimes.com>
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company
More information about the Homestead