Shelter
3:19 pm
Mon December 23, 2013

Homeless In Seattle: 'Seeing A Family Walk In Here, It’s A Heartbreaker'

Ken Kahaloha, a resident at the South Jackson Street camp is also its kitchen manager. The Jackson Street camp was one of three to replace Nickelsville, which was closed in September.
Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

As snow dusted Seattle on Friday morning, demand for warm items shot up at a homeless camp in Seattle’s central area.

Ken Kahaloha, a resident at the South Jackson Street camp and also its kitchen manager, rattled off a few: “Coffee, hot chocolate, soup and Cup Noodles soup.”  

Also desired: shelter. King County estimates that about 9,000 people here are homeless. About half of them are families with children.

The camp where Kahaloha lives is one of three that sprang up to replace the tent city known as Nickelsville in West Seattle. The city shut down Nickelsville in September.

A 7-year-old boy at the South Jackson Street camp plays Nintendo while waiting for the school bus on Friday. The bus was two hours late due to snow.
Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

The Jackson Street camp includes a dozen unheated wooden shacks, where about 20 people sleep, and a large canvas tent that serves as a sort of common area for residents. There’s a kitchen, some tables and a spot to play Nintendo. With winter in full swing, residents there said donations of warm blankets and firewood are appreciated.

“It’s not insulated, but main thing is you got a roof, a door that locks, and a window,” Kahaloha said.

The Jackson Street camp is the only one of the three that accepts families with children. Organizers say they’ve had more than a dozen kids there at one time. A public school bus even makes a regular stop outside the gate.

Kahaloha and his wife Charlotte said they’ve seen a lot of families come and go over the last year.

“Seeing a family walk in here, it’s a heartbreaker,” Kahaloha said.

“You kind of feel sorry for them,” Charlotte Kahaloha said. “It’s so cold out here. I don’t see how society doesn’t deal with it.”

On Friday, there were just two boys at the camp, brothers ages 5 and 7. The 7-year-old said he will likely spend most of the school break at the library, playing video games.

The shacks at the South Jackson Street camp are small and unheated.
Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

The boy’s mother declined to be interviewed as she rushed to get her sons ready for school. But the bus was two hours late because of snow, so the boy wandered back into the tent. He headed straight for shelves stocked with canned food, cereal and bread.

“I am so hungry,” he told Kahaloha.

“You want some hot chocolate?” Kahaloha asked.

The boy spotted some brownies. Kahaloha asked him if he wanted them warmed.

The boy also picked out a can of tuna, which Kahaloha heated for him in the microwave.

In most cases, social service agencies can quickly move families from the camp to other temporary housing or motels.

Richard Gilbert, who has lived in the Nickelsville camps for nearly six years, joked with the boys as they started a snowball fight. He seemed to like having the kids around but said he hopes they’ll move on soon.

“They should be able to get into a house,” Gilbert said. “There should not be one person homeless on the streets today, not one.”