The idea: provide them first with housing and meals, gain their trust, then encourage them to partake of the available services, including treatment for chemical dependency.
On the Bottle, Off the Streets, Halfway There
The Moocher introduced them years ago down by the ferry terminal, near that “No Loitering” sign scratched up to read “Know Loitering.” It was Ed, meet Daryl, Daryl, Ed, between sips and slugs of bottom-shelf whiskey and high-octane beer.
Soon, in the blathering small talk that kills time, Ed Myers and Daryl Jordan identified a bond beyond a shared dislike for the Moocher, who drank but never bought. They both had survived the same firefight in Vietnam, it seemed; brothers now, in blood and booze.
Together they panhandled with Nam Vet Needs Help signs at the highway entrance, converted their proceeds into Icehouse beer and Rich & Rare whiskey, and shared their nights in the perpetual dusk beneath the elevated highway, taking turns seeking the full sleep that never came, so loud was the traffic above, so naked were they below, in addled vulnerability.
Now and then they came in from the elements, sometimes to the same shelter, sometimes to separate shelters, sometimes to the Sobering Support Center on Boren Avenue, where you store your shoes and coat in a black plastic bag, have your vitals checked, accept the soup and juice or not, then fold up on a thin mat over concrete.
If separated, Daryl would spend the early morning pacing the dark streets, until finally here would be Ed, already to drinking to quell those first shakes of the day. And the two would return to Know Loitering.
They came to know the jagged pieces of each other’s bottle-shattered past, the broken marriages, the lost jobs, the ghosts. Daryl still sees what he saw in Vietnam. As for Ed, he was working on a fifth one day in his Iowa hometown when suddenly, there before him, stood his father and grandfather, telling him for shame. That both were dead only underscored the point.
Ed dumped the bottle and didn’t drink for 12 years — until one day he did. Back he fell to the hard, hard streets, which at least offered up another man who understood. Daryl.
Hell, Daryl was there that Thanksgiving time when a woman slipped Ed two twenties; they gave thanks with two days of beer, whiskey and chicken-fried-steak dinners. And Daryl was there when some young cop poured out most of a fifth and tossed the bottle on the ground, prompting Ed to say he didn’t appreciate littering.
Early last year, some people, not cops, tracked Daryl down at the sobering center, where he had slept off a drunk 360 times in one calendar year. They were from a homeless outreach organization and they had some news, good for a change.
The organization had just built a 75-unit residence for homeless chronic alcoholics at 1811 Eastlake Avenue, and was offering rooms to the frailest and costliest to the system, as determined by time spent in the sobering center, the emergency room and jail. The idea: provide them first with housing and meals, gain their trust, then encourage them to partake of the available services, including treatment for chemical dependency.
No mandatory meetings or church-going. And one more thing, crucial to all: You can drink in this place.
Welcome, Daryl. A month later: Welcome, Ed.
“I damn near bawled,” Ed recalls.
The $11 million project has endured the angry complaints of some that it uses public money to enable, even reward, chronic inebriates. And Bill Hobson, the director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, has met that anger with some of his own.
First, he says, the complaints reflect no understanding of the grip of alcoholism: Do you really think these men and women would rather live on the streets? Second, the cost to the public appears to have dropped as the number of visits to the emergency room, jail and the sobering center has plummeted.
Finally, he asks, what kind of equation of humanity is this: Since you refuse to stop drinking, since you refuse to address your disease, you must die on the streets.
“These guys have nothing going for them,” he says. “They could not be more dispossessed.”
So, welcome. Pay a third of your disability income for rent, and remember to behave; this isn’t a party house.
The handsome building at 1811 Eastlake stands on the shores of Interstate 5, a short walk from both the sobering center and a convenience store that sells cheap staples like cans of Icehouse and Midnight Special tobacco. Its first floor includes a laundry, a nurse’s office, counseling rooms and a bulletin board adorned with photos of smiling residents.
Captured in those snapshot smiles, evidence of this life: missing teeth, ill-fitting clothes, faces disfigured by subdural hematomas — from beatings and falls to the pavement. Some residents snatch these photos to decorate their rooms, along with the cardboard signs they once used while panhandling.
Above are three floors of studio apartments, including one for Daryl and one for Ed, both immaculately maintained. Daryl, 59 and with a left forefinger burnt orange by tobacco, was July’s resident of the month. Ed, 61 and with a taste for western-style clothes, was August’s. The poster boys for visiting journalists , forever twinned, it seemed.
Then something happened. On July 1, one day not blurred in memory, Ed felt he needed some nutrients, so he fixed himself a tomato beer: tomato juice and a can of Rainier. He took a sip, winced, took another sip, winced, and that was that. He hasn’t had a drink since.
“It didn’t taste good anymore,” Ed says.
Ed has been drinking ginger ale, and Daryl has been struggling. For a long while Daryl would not go to Ed’s apartment, with its coffee table and La-Z-Boy, and the occasional sound of a resident falling to the floor upstairs. He didn’t want to drink in front of Ed because he didn’t want to tempt his friend, and because, because — “I’m done trying,” he says, eyes tearing.
The other day Daryl was back in Ed’s cozy apartment. Ed was drinking coffee he had just brewed, and Daryl was drinking a can of Rainier from that six-pack Ed never finished. They talked around old and fresh wars for a while, but it was clear that whatever Ed was looking at, Daryl could not yet see.
Online: Voices from Seattle’s 1811 Eastlake Project. www.nytimes.com/danbarry