- About Us
Reporter examines homeless situation in Redmond and how local agencies are there to lend a hand
As night slowly turns into day in the early hours of Wednesday morning, a man stands outside the Redmond Regional Library along Northeast 85th Street.
Like most of the people surrounding him, he is waiting for the bus — in his case, the 232 to Bellevue. But unlike most of the people around him, he did not drive or take another bus to get there.
That is because the man, who prefers to go by the nickname of Bear, is homeless.
Born in Seattle and having grown up around the Eastside, Bear used to live near the Crossroads mall in Bellevue. He said he was kicked out of his apartment a few years ago and fell on hard times so he hasn’t been able to find another place to live.
While Bear receives food stamps from the government, he also has a number of physical ailments including scoliosis and a brain and heart infection and spends a lot of time going to see doctors.
“I have my expenses even though I can’t afford to live anywhere,” he said, adding, “We’re living in hard times.”
HOMELESS BY CHOICE OR CIRCUMSTANCE
Dressed in a dark leather jacket and baggy pants, with a brown ball cap sitting backwards on his head and his personal effects in a green reusable bag attached to the walker he uses to get around, Bear is among a group of homeless individuals who spend time — and sometimes the night — in and around the library.
The situation was brought to the Reporter’s attention after an anonymous reader, who commutes to work from the bus stop outside the library, called in to the Reporter. She said she and other bus riders began noticing young people who appeared to be homeless hanging around the library and became curious. The reader said she was concerned about their well being and ability to access services as well as the fact that the weather is starting to get colder.
Although the people who congregate around the library are all ages, Julie Beard, neighborhood resource officer (NRO) for the Redmond Police Department (RPD), said many of them are young adults from about 18 to early 20s — just as the reader and her fellow commuters noticed.
“Sometimes we see no one there and sometimes we see as many as half a dozen kids sleeping there,” she said.
Beard said the younger people tend to come together in groups.
Older individuals like Bear, who is 40, are more often on their own and more transient. While speaking with the Reporter, Bear pointed out an older woman around her 60s walking by who was also homeless and by herself.
Beard added that these individuals — both younger and older — are usually from all over the place.
Bear said some of the “street kids” he meets are homeless because their parents have kicked them out or other family issues have them choosing to live on the streets — something he does not recommend.
“I would never choose to be homeless,” he said, adding that he has become disillusioned by his unsuccessful hunt for housing.
KEEPING EVERYONE SAFE AND HAPPY
When RPD comes in contact with homeless young adults outside the library after hours, Beard said they will often refer them to the Landing, the shelter for people from ages 18-24 located at the Together Center at 16225 N.E. 87th St. in downtown Redmond. The Landing has 15 beds per night, which are assigned randomly by a lottery. The shelter is run by Friends of Youth (FOY), a nonprofit organization whose mission includes helping homeless youth.
Derek Wentorf, director of homeless youth services for FOY, said their street outreach and shelter team will meet the young people where they are and let them know the organization is there for support if they need it and provide hygiene supplies and food if the young people ask for it.
“From there, we have a wide array of services to support them in moving to independence,” he said. “The youth guide the way and we work with them to achieve the goals they outline. From case management and mental health support to housing and education or employment support, Friends of Youth’s goal is to help every young person have the opportunity for success.”
Wentorf added that FOY’s street outreach team covers 15 Eastside cities and in addition to the Landing, the nonprofit has shelter services for youth younger than 18 with beds for six girls and six boys. The organization also collaborates to implement King County Safe Place, a network of community businesses, government entities and nonprofit locations that provide a safe location for youth who have run from home and have nowhere to go, he said.
If an individual they meet is older than the age range, Wentorf said FOY will work with partners such as Hopelink, Congregations for the Homeless and Sophia’s Way to connect them to the appropriate resources in East King County or beyond.
If a young person does not have a safe place to spend the night and there is no room for them at the Landing, Wentorf said their options are limited. FOY tries to provide them with gear to stay warm and dry for that evening and guarantee them a bed the next night. Shelter staff also provides bus tickets for transportation.
“The Landing has been great,” Beard said, adding that they will more often than not run into an FOY caseworker talking with people at the library whenever they stop by, as well. “Our mission is to get people services because it’s not against the law to sit on the sidewalk.”
Currently, RPD is working with the Redmond Library as well as King County Library System (KCLS) to see if having people sleep outside the building will be a problem or if it is just a reality in the community. So far, Beard said they haven’t really had any problems of individuals interfering with the public or blocking business and customers into the library. When RPD has had calls, it has typically been people just notifying police about the situation or calls regarding problems arising within the group, she said.
“We’re trying to keep the people safe and we’re trying to keep the library customers happy,” Beard said.
GOING ABOUT THEIR BUSINESS
Aaron Oesting, cluster manager for KCLS, said they began seeing people hanging around the library just as the weather began to turn colder, adding that they saw the same pattern last year, as well. Oesting, who oversees the Redmond, Redmond Ridge and Kirkland libraries, said he has seen similar behavior at other libraries he currently works at and has worked at in the past.
Redmond Library does see its regulars during its open hours — individuals who will come in to read, use a computer or just stay warm from the cold, Oesting said. Although, the population does change quite a bit.
He said they don’t have a problem with people sleeping outside the library or utilizing the Wi-Fi outside the building, but they do ask that they be gone by 9 a.m. when the library opens. So far, there have not been any problems, Oesting said. He added that sometimes the individuals will be waiting outside the door along with the rest of the customers and employees waiting to get inside the building.
“They pretty much mind their own business,” he said. “They’ve always been pretty friendly.”
Bear agreed, saying many among the homeless contingent in the area will just come to the library at night to sleep and then they scatter during the day to go about their business — sometimes this includes going to work.
“We’re trying to respect the community and just ask for the same,” he said.
NO NEED TO BE AFRAID
While most people — both homeless and not — tend to keep to themselves, there are times when the two groups interact with each other.
Paula Christiansen, a Kirkland resident who works in Redmond and waits at the bus stop outside Redmond Library every Wednesday mornings, is prepared for such situations.
“If I see someone who seems approachable, I carry St. Vincent de Paul packets,” she said.
These packets include $1 tickets for McDonald’s, a thrift store coupon good for one blanket, phone numbers for various services and a prayer.
Christiansen said when she approaches a person who may be homeless, she almost always says, “Good morning.” If the individual is not responsive, she will back off, but if they do respond, she said she keeps a calm demeanor as she speaks with them, pointing out that anyone could end up in a situation in which they need help.
“We don’t have to be afraid of every single person who’s in trouble,” Christiansen said.
Bear said he is not a fan of confrontations but does not mind engaging in conversation with others. This is exactly what he did Wednesday morning with Christiansen, who gave him one of her St. Vincent de Paul packets.
“I’ll talk to anybody as long as they’re nice,” he said.