Story Thatching

Living Grace

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Sissy is an eagle, now." Luanne punctuates almost every statement made in the community room with this observation. She gets up, gives a blessing in Lakota, turns, faces the ground, chants, sings, stops, and explains she's been praying, "Walk in peace. Walk in peace. Walk in peace." She sits back down, saying, "Sissy is an eagle now," and gives herself a resigned chuckle. Now she lights a clump of sage and the smoke becomes a song.

"Sissy is an eagle now."

Right after that, except it wasn't-it was maybe a month before-but I insist it was right after that, I'm at Bailey Boushay, a hospice home in Seattle watching Carl American Horse struggle to breathe. His skin is broken. Before he was entirely knocked out by the painkillers, he had been scratching his left forearm instinctively, involuntarily, hard enough to draw blood. The nurses here check on him frequently so this wound has to be new. He must have just lost consciousness. He'll be dead in three days.

Time moves differently here. After nearly five years of working with Seattle's most chronic homeless alcoholics, my memories of individual dates and names is not linear; our individual experiences have become communal. I am a 29-year-old, unmarried male, college educated, "Community Support Specialist" of Mexican-American descent. Still, their history has become my own.

And now I'm back at 1811 Eastlake, walking past that same community room. Since 2005, we have housed Seattle's most chronic homeless alcoholics-the greatest users of crisis services like the Emergency Room, the county detox facility, and the local jail-alcoholics in terrible health.

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Hector Herrera has been a Clinical Support Specialist for 5 years at 1811 Eastlake, a housing program unique in its approach to working with homeless chronic alcoholics in Seattle. Clients are offered housing with no conditions of treatment or sobriety. 1811 Eastlake provides housing for 75 men and women while saving King County millions of dollars in crisis services. Prior to that, Hector was a counselor at the DESC shelter, also in Seattle, and served a year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps as a Youth Advocate at First Place, a drop-in center for homeless youth in Oakland, California.


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