“Is your dog fixed?” Cheri and her big eyed pup Lulu meet a new friend while walking their new neighborhood. Polite conversation ensues as women and dogs exchange greeting rituals. “Just moved from a few blocks north. I really like the people here.” The two carry on chatting. Their leashed dogs get bored and lay in the dirt. The scene plays out on any given day and neighborhood. Folks meet, chat, and discuss goings on. Neighborhood stuff.

But the levity here contrasts with the grim backdrop and industrial noise. This neighborhood is under a dirty bridge. The women here don’t shop at Nordstrom or QFC. Their grocery stores are food banks and dumpsters. There’s no rhododendrons or mail boxes. Garbage is the landscaping. Graffiti and spent needles the decorations. The air carries human waste and darkness as the evening shadows set. A man with a long beard tends a smoldering camp fire. There’s a battered cartoonish RV with a crooked stovepipe chimney. There’s crooked tents with crooked poles. It’s a dark and crooked scene. Like a Dr Seuss story gone bad.

Cheri experienced brutal physical abuse and trauma at age 20. She cannot clearly remember or talk about it. She was close to her mother who passed away 10 years ago. She doesn’t speak with her father. She used drugs as a young woman but cleaned up. She relapsed 12 years later when her daughter became very sick.

Cheri has an associate degree in computing. She graduated with a 3.8 GPA. She’s held jobs and likes hard work. A multi-tasker. Her tent is clean and orderly. A nurturer, she cares deeply about others. She likes cosmetics, Disney movies and TV drama. A caring mother. Streetwise and sentimental. Fierce and feminine. She’ll talk tough but tear up like a child. A force to be reckoned. Cheri is all woman through and through.

Encampments conjure anger and ignorance. They conjure conjecture. Sweeps and straw man solutions. Like a fractured fairy tale. A comedy without humor. A monument to social and political failure. But stop by one sometime. Odds are you’ll find a Cheri.

Cheri struggles with her vision forward. She recently began Suboxone treatment. “But the truth is I was very unhappy, even while clean and sober. I was unfulfilled and depressed. I would over-commit myself and my finances on others.“ We met with a social worker recently. Cheri said, “I know I can’t maintain this way. I can’t spend another winter here. I don’t belong here, but I can’t leave these people behind just yet.” She reclined next to a grieving young man. He had just lost his younger sister. She spoke comforting words to him while running her fingers through his hair. Her new neighborhood would be swept clean by the city of Seattle three days later.

Georgetown neighborhood | Damian

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