Lured by Seattle’s Tech Boom, but Being Left Behind
By KIRK JOHNSON 8 hrs. ago
S © Evan McGlinn for The New York Times
Mary Delp and her partner, J.D. Cox, with Krystallynn, 7, left, and Elijah, 6.
SEATTLE — Look outside almost any window at the Guest Rooms homeless shelter here, and the view speaks of wealth and power that the residents inside all lack. Construction cranes claw the sky. Trucks hauling steel or concrete rubble shake the streets. Amazon, the giant online retailer, is building out its headquarters campus in every direction as it and other tech companies, in a scramble for real estate and highly educated talent, reshape the city and its work force.
But as tens of thousands of newcomers and longtime residents are finding, the allure of the tech economy comes with big risks and dangers, too, in the rapidly climbing housing and rent prices that have shocked them. The boom has brought with it a crisis of homelessness that the mayor has declared an emergency.
‘Job Signs Everywhere’
“We knew it was going to be expensive,” said Mary Delp, who arrived here last month with her partner, J.D. Cox, and her extended family, after a job loss and then an eviction in Las Vegas. They considered and rejected the idea of a move to Texas. Seattle, Ms. Delp said, felt like the place with the rawest, roaring economic boom.
But the costs of moving and rent “were more than we expected,” she said, “so we ended up homeless.”
They and their two children are settling for now into the Guest Rooms, a former TraveLodge hotel owned by Amazon, which offered it last month to a local nonprofit group called Mary’s Place to run as a 200-bed shelter for families. The old hotel is now one of Seattle’s largest but most temporary of homeless refuges — doomed to destruction next year as Amazon continues to build.
“We can make it work here,” Ms. Delp said with crisp resolve, sitting in a brightly painted recreation room, as her children, Krystallynn, 7, and Elijah, 6, played nearby. “There are job signs everywhere you look out there.”
Ms. Delp, 26, is pregnant, due in September. She spoke vividly of the trip north, full of hopes and plans but also pain, in condensing the contents of a three-bedroom house into her father’s van and a small U-Haul trailer pulled behind.
“My dad would sleep in the driver’s seat, and at first we were sleeping in the middle seat, and the kids had the back. But then it got too uncomfortable for me to sleep, being pregnant sitting up and everything, so we took over the back and the kids would sleep in the middle seat. My dad was still in the front seat. He raised me as a single father, so I’ve got to make sure he’s O.K. He never gave up on me.”
‘We Had Security’
Joe Dopp, 39, a former roofer and surgical scrub tech, took his family of five to Seattle this year from a small town on Washington’s Pacific coast where second homes and tourism defined the economy, and it was even harder, he said, to earn a decent wage and afford a home. He spoke fast, sitting on a mattress in the family’s room, words tumbling out.
“I made $12 an hour. For two years, I didn’t get a raise. I asked for one. I was told no, when other people had gotten them. I still don’t understand that. I did everything I was supposed to do, but that’s one of the main reasons I said, well, if we’re out, we can go to Seattle or somewhere else and actually have an opportunity.”
The tech boom, Mr. Dopp said, is clearly making some people very rich, but that does not bother him a bit, because it is also creating construction jobs that he is qualified for and ready to take. “I never got a job from a poor man in my life,” he said. “I don’t mind people making their money.”
Chelsie Brown, 32, Mr. Dopp’s partner, talked about the things left behind.
“When we had an apartment, we could take showers, cook dinner whenever you wanted to, could eat whenever we wanted to, could have groceries in the house, we had furniture, beds to lay in, blankets – we had security, you know. We actually had stuff that we loved.”
On the road, it was all so different.
“I did a lot of meal planning: This is what we’re having. But when it came down to meats, I would have to get it that day because refrigeration was nonexistent. Anything we had, food wise, we had to put it in our car.”
‘Another Something You Can’t Overcome’
There were stories of hope and light. Laura Long’s son, Gio’moni Caro, 6, has multiple disabilities. He has had five heart operations already. She and her partner, Angel Caro, 34, a former locksmith, have moved repeatedly and left jobs behind to give him the care he needs. They came here so he could be treated at Seattle Children’s Hospital, which anchors a corner of the city’s biotech corridor and recently expanded its cardiac specialty care.
“It’s just been a struggle,” Ms. Long said. “As soon as you start climbing the stairs, boom! — another medical issue happens, another hospital stay, another something you can’t overcome. That last step that gets us over the top, it just keeps getting knocked back down.”
But she said she would change nothing: “He’s one tough cookie. He tells me, ‘Mom, it’s going to be O.K.’”
‘The Worst Thing in the World’
Tyrus Gilbertson, 39, came to Seattle last fall to take care of his two children, ages 7 and 14, after their mother vanished. He had been involved in his children’s lives, he said, living in a city half an hour north. But the crash course as a single father has pushed him to places he never imagined.
“I was a wrestler in high school, and my coach was always, like, ‘Never give up,’ so I’ve always been a fighter, always been. Quitting is not in my vocabulary.”
He sat with his palms flat on the table, soft-spoken but resolute in talking about how he has made ends meet. He plans to enroll in a welding course this fall.
“I even panhandled a couple of times. I’ve always been a shy person so panhandling was like the worst thing in the world for me to do. I hope I’ll never have to do that again.”
Joe Dopp and Chelsie Brown said being homeless can’t help but make you more empathetic.
“You recognize the things that other people have gone through — you see the world through other people’s eyes a little bit,” Mr. Dopp said.
“Even still, right now,” Ms. Brown replied, “you can’t judge a book by its cover until you read it. That’s what I look at it as. You can’t judge people, just because they’re sitting in the street.”
Mr. Dopp: “You don’t know their story at all.”
Ms. Brown: “No, you don’t know their story.”
As they spoke, near sunset, the Guest Rooms was quieting for the night — doors closing, common room lights clicking out — sheltering the people within.
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