• Mark White

Alone in an Empty City: My 'Real Change' Photo Essay on Seattle's Homeless Population and COVID

"Smurf" showing off his $15 face mask in the early days of the pandemic

In the days following Washington State Governor's March 23 plea to "stay at home," I hit the streets with my camera to explore the question, "What does 'stay at home' mean to those without a home in which to stay?

One result of my walks was that the weekly newspaper, "Real Change," published my photo essay "Alone in an Empty City" that attempted to answer that question. The images in this post are from that essay. For a view of the essay's text and photos, album here. The article that the essay appeared can be downloaded here in a PDF.

I walk quite a bit through downtown with my camera. Pioneer Square, Pike Market, SoDo and Belltown are where I focused most of my walking.

Mariciano Mahino Weinman invoking a prayer at Victor Steinbrueck Park in the Pike Place Market.

Those were not easy days. Businesses abandoned downtown virtually overnight. City services, such as the Metropolitan Improvement District's Downtown Ambassadors program, which attends to street issues and keeps sidewalks and alleyways clean, cut back their services substantially.

One of the consequences, and ironies, of the state's "social distancing" response to Covid was that the street population had fewer places to sleep and fewer places to find support. There were zero health benefits for the street population with the new rules.

I was astounded at how quickly our city's downtown became dystopian. Overnight the downtown core sprouted homeless encampments in virtually all areas; business vestibules became de-facto shelters; men and women were fucked up and passed out in broad daylight, during what are usually our "normal business hours," and without any response or intervention whatsoever.

If you live or work in the downtown core, I get that none of this is "new." The difference from what I could see is that that almost immediately, this activity became the norm, and there was virtually no policing or oversight address any of it. The streets, and its people, were completely abandoned by everyone except of the shelters and front-line volunteers and service people who fed and served the neighborhoods.

In my future posts, I'll share some more images, separate from the Real Change images here, from those walks.

When the downtown business shut down, this gentleman suddenly had the entire Seahwawks parking lot to himself.

© 2016-2020 MARK WHITE  |  mark@mjwhitephotos.com I 206.409.1247

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