OUR CORNER: Real superheroes help the homeless

It’s an exciting time to be a young journalist. I was recently hired by a Russian newsmagazine, Akzia, to interview Seattle superhero Phoenix Jones.

If you don’t know who Phoenix Jones is, check YouTube, the P-I or the “News of the Weird” section of your mid-month back issues of the Times.

Jones is a “real life superhero” who patrols the streets at night looking for crimes.

He made city headlines late last year when police mistook the masked man for a robber and discovered his existence; then he made national and international headlines in mid-January after breaking his nose while intervening in a fight. He continues to patrol.

Believe it or not, there are hundreds of people dressing up in costume across the country as part of the Real Life Superhero Movement. But crime-fighting, as Jones does, seems to be a secondary objective. Many more superheroes act as advocates for and good Samaritans to the homeless in their community, handing out blankets, food and water, or petitioning their local government for better social programs.

The theory is that the costume is recognizable, and therefore becomes a beacon of hope to the homeless and a reminder to the non-homeless that one person can make a positive impact on the problem.

Our area’s homeless could use a recognizable symbol of their own, though they’re not without extraordinary citizens working on their behalf.

Growing up in suburbia, I had always thought of homelessness as a problem belonging to metropolitan cities – too many people, not enough jobs. Of course, I would occasionally see a seemingly homeless person around town, but I always assumed they were in transit to the city; after all, how could there be local homeless with so much available space? And even if they were homeless, how could they access the resources to survive?

I maintained that view through my early adulthood, until I moved to Enumclaw a little more than a year ago. I had been working for The Courier-Herald a few months, but I hadn’t noticed the homeless presence until I started spending the majority of my 24 hours a day in town.

The trouble with rural homelessness is the lack of visibility. In the city, the majority of working adults can reasonably be assumed to work indoors and be on their way to some destination or another, so a dirty or disheveled person loitering on the sidewalk can be more readily identified as a homeless person. But out in the country, a dirty or disheveled person could have just come off a hard day’s work outdoors.

I noticed the difference after observing awhile. They’re subtle, usually in the posture, aimlessness of movement, movement through alleyways, and general avoidance of other people on the street.

During warmer months, I’ve met and talked to several passing homeless in the alley behind The Courier-Herald office. One pair of young men, a teen and a young adult, agreed to come in and talk the following day; to my disappointment, they never showed. But I learned a bit of their story, which I’ve since learned, from coverage of Bonney Lake’s Lions 4 Kids House, is a common one: young, estranged from family for one reason or another, crashing on friends’ couches, looking for work in town and frustratedly looking for housing that isn’t too expensive.

Others live out of their cars while they look for work. I met one such man back in March. He had come down from Alaska with nothing but his Pontiac, looking to settle down. In the meantime, he would wake up mornings after spending the night in his car, only to find frost had crystallized in his beard.

Others aren’t so lucky to have the mobility a car provides. One morning while I was walking to work, a man asked me for a cigarette and we walked for a while. I should mention that I don’t know whether he was homeless or not, but he said something that struck me as central to the issue.

He asked me if I knew of any work in town. I said I didn’t know. He said he needed to find something in town; he didn’t have the transportation means to work anyplace else.

See, I had half of my youthful homeless equation wrong: even the wide open country can have too many people and not enough jobs. What I had right was that resources for those areas can be slim.

“There’s nothing left available to them,” said Hazel Stewart, a clothing donor who appears elsewhere in our Bonney Lake and Sumner papers. She has begun collecting socks and knitting hats for the area’s homeless.

But some resources are available. The Bonney Lake and Bread of Life food banks are a popular service among low-income families, though their stores have been stretched thin in the last year by rising need. Lions 4 Kids House provides clothing, hygiene products and school supplies to children in low income situations.

Our region isn’t without its superheroes. But the homeless issue needs more attention, whether brought on by tights and capes or otherwise.

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