Are homeless people living in undeveloped parts of Seattle’s abandoned underground city? From speaking with some of the locals, it would seem that, unpleasant as it is, some homeless do actually live in the underground city.
I did the tou, and later talked to the tour guide away from the group. I noticed large holes in the walls, where there were large spaces. These spaces were full of rubble, but still seemed navigable. They also were obviously not frequented by the tours, as they looked too dangerous.
Yes, the tour guide replied to my question. There were some homeless living in some parts of the underground. But he said it was rare, as the places were unventilated, and reeked of rat droppings and other such aromatic delights. The air was virtually unbreathable in most undeveloped parts of the underground city.
My curiosity got the better of me. It was the last week of June, so it was still light until 10.00 pm. I decided to go walkabout, and try to find out. I asked one of the guys in Pioneer Square, which is the oldest part of the city, and where the underground tours are conducted. He was suspicious of me, as I had expected. Eventually, he explained the sense of it to me.
The old city that burnt down and was rebuilt covered 64 city blocks. The tour and the redeveloped underground shops cover far less than that. Yes, he said, there are places where people get in to sleep. He mentioned an old warehouse a mile or two south, on the water, where there was supposedly a hole in the wall to the underground.
He also said there were quite a few other places he had heard of, but he had no intention of going down there, as he considered it unsafe. I wasn’t sure if he meant the structures, or the people willing to risk the unsteadiness of the abandoned buildings.
While I was talking to this guy, three police cars pulled up, and the police officer asked me if the guy was annoying me. I said no, and they moved to the next homeless guy. These guys weren’t doing anything, just hanging around talking. Yet the police seemed intent on moving them on.
I was a little perturbed, as police have not had such powers in Australia until recent attempts in Queensland to introduce “move on” legislation aimed at the homeless. I hoped this was not the way Australia was going to go as well.
The guy I was talking to told me this was common in Pioneer Square, and “…you just gotta go with it”. He also told me about Freeway Park being a place many people went to sleep, but again, “…the cops hassle you there, too.”
He told me that there were about 7,000 homeless people in Seattle, which is apparently a fair estimate, given that figures on homelessness are often difficult to compile. Often, the homeless know more about the homelessness numbers than the so-called experts who are supposed to deal with the problem.
A few other guys joined in, and reiterated what he had said about the underground, but said it was best to stay away. They also told me of some of the other efforts that are going on in the city. One that I was particularly interested in finding out more about was Seattle Housing And Resource Effort (SHARE), which I later found runs 14 shelters with about 300 beds. An interesting initiative is the two tent cities they run, one in Seattle and the other in suburban King County. Both tent cities are open 24/7.
SHARE also have a severe weather shelter for women only, that operates in the harsh winters Seattle has to endure. The guys who were with me told me how people died from the cold living on the streets. There were never enough places in the shelter (seems like the same problem just about everywhere, but more pronounced in extreme climates like Seattle).
The first guy told me that, if I needed somewhere to sleep, he could show me where the tent city was. I thanked him, and was touched by his willingness to help a complete stranger. Especially considering the circumstances he himself was in.
He also claimed that some of the guys could pick the locks, or even broke the locks, to get down the storm water drains, and then into the underground.
The official line from government sources (at least, when I called them) is that there are no homeless living in the underground. Unofficially, though, some of the sources told me they believed there were.
That made sense. I have seen people in many cities living in unused underground railway tunnels and similar things. So there seems all likelihood that people are living in the underground city of Seattle as well. I hope one day to know for sure.