During election cycles, much attention is paid to the economy, and more specifically, job creation. UWEE talked to a homeless woman in Seattle about how she found herself on the street after her career faltered, which provides a sobering reminder of how easily it could happen to others.
SEATTLE — Melanie has bright eyes, a welcoming smile, and a wicked laugh. She is 27 years old, a jewelry artist, an expectant mother, and a self-proclaimed Republican. A former Whidbey Island resident, Melanie currently lives on the streets. She panhandles for a living, sleeping in doorways with her boyfriend and her dog Duke.
Five years ago, Melanie’s life was very different. She explained that she owned her own home and a successful jewelry business. Then the economy turned. “The tourists started buying cheap key chains and stopped buying my jewelry,” she said. Without reliable income, she found herself struggling to make ends meet. First, the career she built was lost. The house followed.
While standing on the corner of 45th and University Way, a stone’s throw from the University of Washington campus, Melanie and Duke hold court. Melanie displays a sign asking for money for marijuana and beer. She says that the sign is more for the amusement of those that pass her on the streets than anything else: local college kids will give to a cause when they readily agree with the sentiment. A young man stops and gives Melanie two cigarettes and she tucks one behind each ear. He laughs, then gives her two more to which she responds, “I only have two ears!” and pretends to give them to her dog. A college-aged young man hands Melanie ten bucks and tells her to buy Duke dog food, to which she smiles and says, “I will! Thanks!”
“I’m the most normal person out here,” she says as she smiles and nods at people passing her down University Way — known as “The Ave” to locals. “My attitude is I walk on the streets, the streets don’t walk on me.” Electing doorways over “bed bugs, scabies, and lice, oh my,” Melanie and her boyfriend avoid tent cities and shelters. They have a room lined up in a house with some friends and have saved up enough welfare money that they’ll be able to move in as soon as the current residents vacate.
A follower of politics, she tends to focus on national issues. Local issues aren’t as important to her right now as she is focused on her own full plate, specifically being able to provide for her future child. “This isn’t the first time I’ve lived like this,” she says, “My Mom put me in inappropriate situations. I’ve been raising myself since I was 12, and living on my own since 14. I’m going to provide my child with solid structure.”
Melanie voted for John McCain in the last presidential election, and she is clearly not an Obama fan. “When the government [messes] up, the people suffer,” she says. “How about creating jobs that aren’t for the military?”
Eventually she plans on getting back into jewelry, but she needs money to invest in tools and her business and for now, securing safe housing comes first. “It will get better,” she says, “I know it. It’s a good thing you’re out here, showing people that this can happen to them too.”