April 09, 2005
The Svelte, Sweet-toothed Homeless of King County

From the King County Journal front page, yesterday:

Jason Buckley needed to immediately control his addiction to sugary sodas and begin exercising. But that's hard to do while living in tent city- where donated bakery treats are plentiful and daily exercise isn't a priority for those coping with poverty.

To help Buckley and others living in the temporary homeless camp, Eastside churches have donated $2,800 for short-term club memberships at Kirkland's 24-Hour Fitness. Buckley is one of 26 men and women at the homeless camp who exercise using those donated memberships.

Now, this is not a slam of Buckley. He’s an honorable veteran with serious injuries, dealing with diabetes exacerbated by (illegal) steroid use and vitiated by his tragic sugary soda addiction. I can understand why Jeff Switzer, the reporter, centered on him. More power to Buckley for using the donation to good effect; it’s disturbing that he’s not getting more help from the VA. Nor do I want to cast aspersions on generosity.

But with the report I will take issue. Take the proposition: “Daily exercise isn’t a priority for those coping with poverty, ” or that exercising is hard to do while living in tent city.

Imagine: “Hey man, put down the eclair for a sec. Want to do some push-ups?”
“Can’t... too poor. Trying to cope.”

It's not fair to offer the corollary: “Poverty isn’t a priority for those coping with daily exercise.” Yet I can't help picturing trying to explain this to the many unbelievably hard-working people I've known in Africa and elsewhere (who know something of abject poverty). The fishermen rowing dugout canoes from the oceanside port of Freetown, Sierra Leone; the old woman chipping rocks for gravel in Conakry, Guinea; the Liberian refugee camp where they stir palm oil by hand to make soap... and everywhere the trips to the standpipe for water, the 5 mile walks to church or the river to wash.... "Well, in my country, it's a challenge for the poor to get enough exercise, you see...."

Michael Schwartz and his fiancée, Ashley Johnson, are among the new [Tent city] fitness club members trying to work off excess body fat.
Washington: where the homeless struggle to overcome the scourge of obesity and a surfeit of free bakery treats.


Yes, the free food banks aren't exactly nutrition centers. But any volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter knows that produce and vegetables are ALWAYS on the table. At the St. James (Catholic church in Seattle) meal program, after the dinner the guests can get bags of apples. At Union Gospel Mission, the four food groups are always in supply. The bankers of Accra, Ghana wish they ate as well as some of our homeless.

I respect that the donor, Nash, made a sacrifice to do this. In her words:

"I'm just delighted I've been able to help them to build some good habits,'' she said.
It doesn't, however, require a fitness center to get good habits. Or to exercise.

Maybe I'm just wishing we could afford a gym membership ourselves. ;)

Posted by Brian Crouch at April 09, 2005 09:00 AM | Email This
1. I truly gagged when I read this! However, if I was living in Tent City, getting a job, place to live and food for my family would be first priorities. Is the author looking down her nose at the residents because they are poor--because they are not toned--UNFIT--or both? What an arrogant, superior attitude she must have, and what a misfit bunch of congregants to believe that a fitness club donation will solve anything.

Posted by: sue gill rose on April 9, 2005 09:14 AM
2. Right, ultimately this is just plain laziness. There are lots of jobs out there that lazy Americans don't want because they are too used to seeing their fellow citizens in overpaid union jobs and they feel they are entitled to more.

Couple that with the liberal establishment constantly telling them that they ARE entitled to more and that it ought to be taken from the rich and given to them, it's no wonder that the poor just sit waiting for their handouts.

If these people would get off their butts, get showered and cleaned up, go get decent jobs at Walmart and McDonalds and start to move themselves forward, then it wouldn't be long before they were part of the American dream. Instead they sit in tent cities, zombies waiting for their handouts and whining about how sugar is happening to them.

Posted by: Jeff B. on April 9, 2005 09:30 AM
3. Church's paying $2800 for homeless's "club" memberships? OK....This is a private transaction, but I would not be making any donations to support any of the involved "not for profits". Wackos!!

Posted by: JCH on April 9, 2005 09:47 AM
4. Homeless veteran?

Let us not assume that this man is a veteran and if he is a veteran, that little or nothing is being done for him.

Such people often tell the reporters what the reporters want to hear.

Posted by: Peter Rice on April 9, 2005 10:04 AM
5. I feel for those people in Tent City that really have landed in a period of hard luck and need some place to stay while getting their life back in order. So, I don't want to criticize any of these people.

What I do want to do, however, is criticize the politicians that appear to be using these people as pawns during their rough period. Worse, these politicians seem to be seeking to glorify dependency; specifically, these politicians glorify the status of dependency on THEM. I almost get the sense that they would like all of us to be somehow dependent on them.

Is this the vision they have of an "urban village"?

Posted by: DeadManVoting (aka Iguana) on April 9, 2005 10:30 AM
6. I'm not homeless nor do I have an expensive gym membership of any kind. I get my exercise the old-fashioned way: I walk! anyone can do it. The homeless man can say NO to the sugary stuff and walk virtually ANYWHERE for 30 minutes a day.

Posted by: Michele on April 9, 2005 11:31 AM
7. So, good news: Charities serving King County have much more money than they need. Obviously Democrats are going to stop whinging about needing more government money for anti-poverty programs. Private charities have got it so well covered that they can spend $2800 to send homeless people to fitness clubs.

One might think, of course, that instead of spending $2800 on fitness club memberships, these churches might have used that money to feed starving people in other places, but that probably just never occurred to them.

Posted by: ScottM on April 9, 2005 11:42 AM
8. Something a membership in a gym club offers that's hard to get elsewhere, if you're homeless, is a shower. Take as long as you want. Get thoroughly clean. That should really help those seeking employment.

As for walking, I did that a lot when I was homeless. I walked all around Belltown. As my multiple sclerosis got worse, walking became much less of an option. Thankfully, Social Security finally decided that MS wasn't going to go away, and now I have a real apartment and a cool powerchair.

Oh, and I never saw any eclairs, but plenty of Danish. Hot dinners were usually very filling, and very greasy too. Can't say it was much fun, but I survived it.

Posted by: Jeannette on April 9, 2005 01:02 PM
9. So now drinking too much soda is an "addiction"? Give me a break. Smoking is an addiction... to much pop is just poor self control (this comes from a person with an admitted 20oz bottle of Vanilla Coke a day "habit")

You know, you want to know a way to lose weight and get healthy-- cut out the soda and drink water! I'm not a doctor, but I would guess that it would probably do wonders for his diabetes.

However, there is something to be said about the free hot showers-- if it helps get them cleaned up and into a job... hey, it's private money, more power to them

Posted by: Mike H on April 9, 2005 01:10 PM
10. shoes. walk.

how tough can it be?

Posted by: scott158 on April 9, 2005 01:15 PM
11. "Hunger is a GREAT educator" they need less "free-stuff" and they will get 'smart' fast.

Posted by: Ray on April 9, 2005 03:38 PM
12. Noam Chomsky to lecture at several Eastern Washington universities:


Posted by: Patrick E. Bell on April 9, 2005 04:10 PM
13. Are there several Eastern Washington universities?

Posted by: CandrewB on April 9, 2005 04:48 PM
14. CandrewB: We have indoor plumbing, too.

Posted by: ScottM on April 9, 2005 05:02 PM
15. CandrewB, Eastern Washington even has that new-fangled electricity. Why, I've even seen a TV or two over thar. Whut will they think of next?

Posted by: dragon on April 9, 2005 05:44 PM
16. There are two types of homelessness out there. There are the career homeless, who it appears these people are, and there are the homeless that are in this situation temporarily. My four kids and I were homeless for a period of 6 months after a divorce. We got help ONLY from church and other private groups. Our wonderful state's provisions unfortunately only go to the career homeless out there and therefore there are no provisions left for the people who truly need the help. When I questioned the state as to how I was going to feed my children and clothe them when they weren't doing everything to get the over $23,000 owed me from the children's father, I was told to go to charities and food banks. Something needs to be done to stop the career homeless from taking all resources (like this free gym memberships). My kids and I never got free gym memberships, I still can't afford a gym membership.

Posted by: Miriam on April 9, 2005 06:07 PM
17. I apologize; I'm a recent. OK: WSU, Eastern Washington, Gonzaga, and?

Posted by: CandrewB on April 9, 2005 06:38 PM
18. Stories about the plight of the homeless are written to tug at the heartstrings, and can lead a reporter to eschew healthy skepticism and abandon the axiom to “trust but verify". A good reporter will dig down a bit to find the real story. In general, while there is a lot of reporting, there is very little information about tent cities. What is the “success rate” in terms of the number of tent city residents who have moved on to permanent jobs and housing? What is the average stay in tent city? How many tent city residents moved here from out of the state? Without any real research and reporting on the facts, the whole tent city concept remains little more than political theater, sometimes tragic, sometimes comic.

I am curious if the reporter made any attempt to verify tent city resident Jason Buckley's military record. What corroboration or proof exists for his account of his service related injuries? If he was wounded in action he deserves much more than a free health club membership. Still, there are a lot of guys standing on freeway on-ramps holding up cardboard signs that proclaim that they are wounded vets...

I believe that an individual's military service can be verified under the Freedom of Information Act by requesting a transcript from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri (the average turnaround time for requests is about four months).

Posted by: Will Cummings on April 9, 2005 06:43 PM
19. First. unions are to blame, you have the problem nailed Jeff.

OK, if people are homeless because they are lazy, then they must be the most lazy people in the world. There are transitional homeless who get caught up in divorces, layoffs, etc... as Miriam can attest, and almost all of whom eventually get it together. The rest (and I mean 100% of the rest) have issues with drugs, alcohol, or schizophrenia and would remain homeless if we gave them an apartment and made the rent $5.00 a month.

As far as I can tell, with those you have three options: continue as is and step over them on your way to work everyday, put them somewhere and keep them somewhere, or kill them.

Option one seems the cheapest and most expedient. Option two will cost a great deal more money and will surely run into Constitutional issues, and option three is obviously out of the question. So, any ideas out there conservatives? Serious, I don't have any.

Posted by: CandrewB on April 9, 2005 07:14 PM
20. candrewb: Three is several.

Posted by: ScottM on April 9, 2005 07:49 PM
21. You could even make it a bigger several if you added Central Washington U.

Posted by: Calvin A on April 9, 2005 07:59 PM
22. CandrewB another option would be to insist the shelters serve only a vegan diet. Let's see how many folks line up for that!

Who is buying the donuts? You get $2,800 and run to Winchells?

No, give 'em lettuce and sprouts and watch what happens.

Posted by: deebo on April 9, 2005 10:51 PM
23. I read this and it realy bothers me. Is this worthy of front page news? Here we have more so called victims that can't help themselves from eating Dnuts and drinking SunnyD. Donated by the evil corporate mega food chain stores.

And then we have the fact of going to a private club to share a tub or sauna with questionable charcaters. I bet that helps there memberships. And they say it helps to releave the stress. The stress of What? Not going to work?

It is a tough life, you are lucky to get out of it a live.

Posted by: S.G. on April 9, 2005 11:12 PM
24. While privately donated these gym memberships are nothing more then just another ENTITLEMENT!

Entitlements are more addictive then any soda, sugar, or cigarette. And getting something for doing nothing has never spurred any motivation or inspiration. Maybe the donnor should consider holding the gym memberships back as a reward for those who get jobs, and become contributing members of society.

Posted by: Joe on April 10, 2005 12:22 AM
25. As someone who belongs to that atheletic club and often bicycles past the current tent site (for exercise on my favorite route), let me add some background. The club is not expensive, about 20 dollars a month per person. (And the church might have done even better with a group buy.)

That said, it is also true that the homeless who want to exercise can do so without belonging to a club. Kirkland is a fine place for walking and jogging, either along the lake or up and down the hills around the downtown area. The encampment is just a few blocks from a big park with tennis courts, basketball courts, a place for skateboarders, and so forth. (There's also a fine baseball field, but you may have to reserve that.)

And I don't think that anyone, homeless or not, should give up exercise for something more "important". Exercise is essential for health, physical and mental. I would not be at all surprised to learn that many of those in the encampment suffer from mild or severe depression -- which can often be alleviated just by brisk walks every day. And exercise is an effective treatment for many degenerative diseases, too.

I think the encampment is a nasty way to keep people homeless, instead of solving their problems, but I do applaud the effort to encourage these people to exercise. That, at least, is positive.

Posted by: Jim Miller on April 10, 2005 06:08 AM
26. So why can't they WALK? I HAVE access to a fitness center but this spring have decided to get in shape by WALKING. It's great to be outdoors, healthful and a great overall fitness program. Gym memberships are nice... but there is NO reason poverty should keep someone out of shape. And yes, I've been there!!!!

Posted by: Sue on April 10, 2005 06:28 AM
27. In something of a defense for these bums... I mean poor individuals... perhaps the reason that they aren't walking is because of injuries. I used to be a long distance runner in my youth, and now my knees are so beat up that I can't run on hard ground for very far without being in pain-- soft ground isn't an issue, but hard ground hurts something aweful. This article mentions this guy nearly lost his leg, so maybe it prevents him from running or walking long distances on hard ground (i.e. sidewalks).

The nice thing about a gym is that the have eliptical trainers and the like that allow you do go the equivalant of long distance with the abuse to your legs. That's half the reason I joined a gym, so I can do cardio workouts and save my legs from the abuse.

Of course, if he would drop the soda "addiction", that would probably help too (he's in a tent city, how the heck can he afford enough soft drinks for it to qualify as an "addiction"?)

Posted by: Mike H on April 10, 2005 01:30 PM
28. Still...there are plenty of hardworking people out there that would enjoy a free gym membership. How come it is the ones who can't be bothered to work that get it? I guess the solution is to quit working and let someone else support me. There is plenty of work out there, you just have to want to provide for yourself and not rely on others to provide for you. Take a job at McDonalds, they are hiring.

Posted by: Miriam on April 10, 2005 02:27 PM
29. This fluff piece was written to further perpetuate the failed social experiment known as Tent City 4, run by SHARE/WHEEL, a group which wants to further its own political agenda by perpetuating the cycle of homelessness, one tent at a time. In the past year, since Tent City 4 moved to the Eastside after splintering from Tent City 3, the money that has been wasted on this model is astronomical! The City of Bothell spent over $97,000 on 24/7 police coverage for the 90 days Tent City 4 was in Bothell, camped at St. Brendan's Church near 3 elementary schools. The City of Woodinville spent over $100,000 when it had TC4 for 90 days. That doesn't factor in the lawsuits filed, etc. All of this money to shove less than 100 people in tents for 90 days at a time. Many of these people have lived in Tent City 3-4 for 4-5 YEARS! Temporary? I think not. For many this has become a free ride and since coming to the Eastside, Tent City 4 and it's organizers, SHARE/WHEEL have hit the gravy train. So much so, that when they moved from their site in Woodinvill last November, they actually threw donated items (including new, unopened packages of food, clothing, shoes, personal products) in the garbage. No joke. After being caught, they claimed the items had been damaged when the tent they were in sprung a leak, but those claims were not true, as the items were in perfectly good/new condition. This Tent City is a sham!

Posted by: mimi on April 10, 2005 06:30 PM
30. Someone mentioned "career homeless". I have a good friend that is homeless year-round, by choice. I don't think he's ever taken a dime in "charity", and he certainly doesn't draw any type of welfare (he does get an Army retirement check as an E-8, mailed to his bank in Wisconsin). He just can't settle down. He never spends more than three days in any one place. He carries everything he owns on his back, and it doesn't weigh 40 pounds. He's a great guy, but he does have problems and they're definitely Vietnam-related (we met over there). I doubt he'd live in your "tent city". I do know he visits the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other places, mostly to bathe.

We're all different. Some of us are just a little MORE different than others.

Posted by: Old Patriot on April 10, 2005 09:42 PM
31. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of americans live in various types of campers and RVs without paying rent. Some are retired and some are younger. Some have savings or pensions, some get government aid, some work.

What is it about Tent City that is real different from living in a camper or RV?

Most Americans complain of pressure and overwork. They seem to desire freedom. All you have to do is realize that the true path to freedom is by giving up your ambitions and desires. Simply walk out that door and leave your chains behind. Desire can never be satisfied. Google bartruhari vairagya. This is the symbolic meaning of TC. It is a projection of your own inner struggle.

Posted by: ToddBoyle on April 10, 2005 10:40 PM
32. Brian, you have had good luck with uncovering dirty laundry. I would encourage you to review the books for Share/Wheel (public non-profit agency that operates Tent City 4) and let us know how the money and contributions are accounted for. Many concerned residents in Bothell, Woodinville, Finn Hill, Kirkland and Bellevue have tried unsuccessfully to audit over the course of the past year. There have been accusations that Share/Wheel receives money from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to operate these camps under the guise of a temporary emergency homeless encampment! If this is true then isn't it time for some public disclosure--forget the twinkies, donuts, gym passes and look for accountability to homeless and neighbors. The main stream press has not pursued this investigation, but maybe a good blog investigator could do the trick.

Posted by: Care4Homeless on April 10, 2005 11:53 PM
33. How is 24 Hour Fitness's membership going NOW? And how does the church afford to buy memberships for the homeless? Tithes? Do they pass the plate on Sunday for the congregation to donate money for the homeless' Spa fees? Remind me not to attend that church!!
WORSE.......I read that the tent city residents are being given free tickets to the Kirkland Performance Center shows. When I grow up, I want to be homeless!!

Posted by: sbg on April 11, 2005 08:55 AM
34. CandrewBG: Whitworth, Spokane Falls CC

Posted by: Kay on April 11, 2005 10:03 AM
35. CandrewB: Whitworth.........Spokane Falls CC

Posted by: Kay on April 11, 2005 10:05 AM
36. Presentable cloths, $20. Value Village.
Bath & shave, $15. YMCA
Cut hair, $10. Great Clips.
Ride or walk to WorkSource office, $5.
Any job in three weeks,
done... $50.
Next homeless person.

Posted by: Son of Liberty on April 11, 2005 10:07 AM
37. ToddB- "Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of americans live in various types of campers and RVs without paying rent. Some are retired and some are younger. Some have savings or pensions, some get government aid, some work.

What is it about Tent City that is real different from living in a camper or RV?"

The difference is that people work and save their money to PURCHASE an RV or camper. Last time I checked, no one is handing out free RV's.

These people in the tent cities are enabled enough. There are many people that have come on hard times....the difference is that they WORKED to get through it.

Posted by: ltsofkids on April 11, 2005 12:20 PM
38. What I want to see more of is the comparison of Tent Cities to WW2 death camps. Yes, that's right, folks, one of the articulate and erudite anti-TCers to actually sign up and speak in the public microphones before the Kirkland City Council the other night immediately started by saying these camps were akin to Auschwitz and Dachau. Presumably he was trying to say that anyone who would "put" these people into tents was like those who put Jews into the death camps. No, no, I'm not kidding. He even led us all in a moment of silence for those who died in the death camps. With entertainment like this going on a KCC meetings they are going to have to start selling tickets soon! And apparently this gentleman is one of the "respected opponents of Tent City"! Is that brilliant strategy or what? The KCC was apparently so impressed with this display of analogy and logic that they voted unanimously in favor of Tent City the other night. Who'd a thunk it?

Posted by: Phil Ochs on April 12, 2005 06:08 PM
39. Phil, the Kirkland City Council had already made their decision long before they heard public testimony on whether or not they should adopt the MOST LENIENT policy in the County regarding Tent City 4. Heck, the Mayor of Kirkland even helped Tent City 4 move in ILLEGALLY without a permit to their current site, so it was no surprise that there was a unanimous vote. The public hearing was simply a formality. The fact is, the World Health Organziation has higher standards for refugee camps in Afghanistan, than we have for Tent City. The fact is, 15 years ago, when the first Tent City came to be in Seattle, it was passed off as being simply a short term stop gap due to the fact that there were "1000 homeless" without shelter on the streets of Seattle. What has happened in those 15 years to address this issue? NOTHING! We've gone from having one Tent City to having two. We've gone from a reported 1000 homeless to 8000 homeless. We've gone from King County spending 6-8 million on the homeless issue, to last year spending 24 million dollars! We've gone from Ron Sims saying "this is America, we don't put people in tents" to saying just give them tents and shove them into rural suburban neighborhoods, near schools, children, no public transportation, no transitional services, etc. The sad reality is, it will probably take a real tragedy to get people to wake up to just how bad this Tent City model is. That sir, is the real tragedy. Tent City does NOTHING to help break the cycle of homelessness.

Posted by: mimi on April 12, 2005 09:17 PM
Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember info?