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Restoring self-respect for homelessness
Changing the fate of homeless one camp at a time
May 17, 2017
“I am homeless.” These words are hard to hear, and are even harder to say. For many people, homelessness equates with drug addiction and mental illness. While these can be contributing factors, homelessness also wears other faces.
Gregory Marks has not only seen those faces, he has lived with them. He once had a crack cocaine habit that took over his life and left him on the streets. He remembers clearly what it was like to mix ketchup with water, add some salt and pepper, and call it soup.
That changed about five years ago when and he suffered a work injury and an L & I claim sent him to Pierce College in pursuit of a degree.
He took his life experiences, combined them with his education, and created an organization called “Right Now Today” or RNT.
He said, “At Right Now Today we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. I can have a homeless organization or a domestic violence organization or whatever, but why do that when I can take the people I have in my group and help enhance another group to help them reach their goal?”
Bringing solutions to existing problems comes naturally to Marks. His education gave him focus and direction to those skills that he uses daily.
Those skills came in handy when a good friend called him up to help with a project. His friend, Eric Davis, had driven by a homeless camp, and became inspired to get involved. Marks saw the potential the camp had, knew he wanted in.
They were able to make arrangements with the City of Seattle to lease the property for a year for $1. The next step was to get the site expanded to allow up to 70 people. However, they were far from done.
He watched as winter hit the camp. He said, “During the winter months when it was snowing really bad, a bunch of their tents collapsed. And I started thinking about it, it was a terrible thing. 90% of these people in this camp work regular jobs. They catch the bus, go to work, they catch the bus back home, and they’re coming home to a tent. He had something better in mind. “As opposed to walking in and seeing a tent, they walk in and see a house. That was my idea.”
When the tow men came up with the idea of microhousing, they were very specific about their description. Marks said, “We talked about how we didn’t want them to be called “tiny houses” … we wanted to call them something that set them apart.”
Marks and Davis see the camp to be a model from which others could be created.
Davis runs Camp Second Chance. He has extensive experience with the challenges that being homeless can bring. He was one homeless himself. Today he is a clinical counselor and has run the camp since April 2016.
It is drug-free and alcohol-free and secured with a fence and a gate. Before anyone is allowed granted residency at the camp, the rules of conduct are explained. There are three main rules: participate in the upkeep of the camp, take a security shift, and attend the Monday evening meetings.
Emphasis is placed on personal conduct within the camp. It is understood that people have struggles. If conflicts arise, they are used as opportunities to practice being better. However, finding drug paraphernalia is grounds for immediate dismissal.
If an eviction becomes necessary, Eric said, “We will never put someone out on the street. We have a Lyft account. All that individual needs to do is give an address of where to go and we will not only help that person get there, we will help with transporting personal belongings.”
Currently, there are four houses and each one has windows, electricity, and running water. One of the houses was donated by a former Pierce alumni. Marks and Davis hope to have the camp with all microhouses by the end of the year. It is a daunting goal; they are fully dependent on donations and volunteers. The most recent build had the help of a construction company in Seattle.
Marks sees the camp as a promise that can be made to the homeless. The best thing they can have is the ability to be self-sufficient. At the camp, they have to responsible for the property and for themselves. That is the key for helping someone put a life back together. He said, “I think it means more when they are working for it; you can help them get their life back together.”