Why give homeless sleeping bags, when urban camping is such a problem?

Oct 14, 2015, 4:23 PM | Updated: Oct 15, 2015, 5:50 am
Eddie Wang has organized a sleeping bag handout to combat rising homeless problems in Seattle. But ...
Eddie Wang has organized a sleeping bag handout to combat rising homeless problems in Seattle. But Ron Upshaw wonders if it is helping in a city with an urban camping problem. (AP)
(AP)
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For many, “sleepless in Seattle” inspires nostalgic, rom-com sentiments of the Emerald City. But for a considerable portion of Seattle’s population, it’s a way of life for those living on the cold streets.

“The common denominator I find with someone who is homeless is broken relationships. What if we just came around them as friends?” said Eddie Wang. “In the same way when the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl, fans lined up around the VMAC and at Sea-Tac. What if we cared for each other like neighbors and friends.”

Wang, 24, is one local who isn’t complaining about the area’s homeless population. He is trying to do something about it. What he did was raise money for sleeping bags to keep those experiencing homelessness warm through the winter. In 2014, he was able to hand out around 3,500 sleeping bags. He’s looking to expand that effort this year.

Related: More homeless people camping under Seattle’s freeways

“We’re doing it again this year with a couple changes; more sleeping bags, more winter care packages,” he said.

But while the sentiment is honorable, Ron Upshaw of KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show isn’t entirely on board with handing out camping gear to the area’s homeless population.

“When I’m driving into work, specifically off of I-5, I see a couple homeless encampments that look like a garbage dump,” he said. “It looks like someone took a garbage truck and dumped it out in the middle of the road,” Ron said. “I look at that and my first reaction is not compassion. I look over there and I feel a bit angry and a bit disgusted … at least be a human being.”

While Wang could understand the first impression, he said that a simple glance is not the entire story.

“What really changed it for me is getting to know people,” Wang said, noting that most of the homeless people he meets are kids that have fallen through the foster care system, or veterans.

“Life happens. And as I’ve gotten to know people, when you get to know their story it all just makes sense,” he said.

And although no one is happy about campsites up and down the freeway, something has to be done, Wang notes. The problem is getting worse.

“Homelessness is going up … last year they counted 3,200 people and this year they counted 3,800 people, that’s a 21 percent rise in unsheltered people in King County. The need is definitely increasing,” Wang said.

To offer some help for when “life happens” around King County, Wang started SleeplessInSeattle.org. An IndieGoGo page is also up for people to donate money to the cause. Its goal is $100,000, which would equate to 4,000 sleeping bags, and 4,000 winter care packages for King County’s homeless population. So far, about $15,000 has been raised.

On Nov. 21, volunteers will form 50 teams and fan out across the county to hand out the sleeping bags and care packages. Any leftover bags will be donated to local nonprofits.

The problem with constant use of a sleeping bag is they wear down. That means some of King County’s homeless need replacements, but more concerning is that the area’s homeless population has grown in a short period of time.

“I see people under the bridge, and I don’t feel like Ron does,” said co-host Don O’Neill. “If you stop to get to know them, and they get to become a human being, the way you feel about them changes.”

“And homelessness will continue to grow, especially with the wars we’ve had in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. A lot of these men and women are coming back broken, their families don’t want to be around them because they have PTSD, so they’re sleeping under a bridge somewhere,” he added. “Everyone has a right to be warm, even if they are under the Ballard bridge.”

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Why give homeless sleeping bags, when urban camping is such a problem?