Downtown Seattle “home of the crack dance and the heroin sway”

Some follow up from our last Mental Map Interview.

Tupelo is a Section 8 resident living in one of the few Affordable buildings in Downtown Seattle. She has lived downtown 15 years on Section 8 housing; first in Belltown for 10 years, then was dislocated and found new housing at 3rd & Pine. Tupelo is also a disabled Veteran. She expressed a need to live downtown for walkability to things she needs. She has now found what she needed in a place she calls “Home of the Crack Dance and the Heroin Sway”.

Tupelo MM 2

You have likely passed her building entrance while shopping downtown, or avoid the street altogether. Tupelo lives at 3rd & Pine, along 3rd Street on the stretch from Pine to Pike. The entrance to her building is between McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. If you’ve ever walked around shopping downtown you know the McDonald’s as a navigating landmark – it’s across from Macy’s.

I personally feel extreme discomfort when I walk along this strip. I keep my eyes looking downward. I try not to breathe in through my nose due to smells of dirt, urine, and drugs. I mentally lock down to ignore the catcalls, harassment, violent fighting, people exposing themselves, and peddling. Several months ago I noticed a doorway that people were sleeping in front of. Could this be apartments?? Could someone actually live here??

Yes. Tupelo lives here. It’s the place she was able to find under affordable housing after being dislocated from Belltown. The experience of moving here was difficult. Her previous home in Belltown was where she lived for 10 years – a real home. With the gentrification of Belltown, the Non Profit running her home sold the building to a For Profit. Her rent was raised $90 and she had less than 2 months to move. With little financial resources, no car, and a disability, Tupelo had to figure something out.

She made her way to a new Section 8 apartment above the McDonald’s.

“There is always someone sleeping in the doorway. There’s often feces, wine. Always drug use: deals going on, needles, using. I call it “Home of the Crack Dance and the Heroin Sway””

“I would have had to move out of King County on Section 8, but I need to be in the Urban Core. I don’t have a car; I need to be able to walk to my doctor, physician, pharmacy, and beyond that shopping and my place of worship.”

Rent is still over 40% of her income. Section 8 policy is that rent is 30% of income. Earlier, the management raised rent up to 45% of her income. She then went on a writing campaign, doing research for 1 week, gathering addresses, and writing to every political official at the local, state, and federal levels. She spent $70 sending these letters, and managed to get the rent down a bit, but it’s still too high by Section 8 standards.

For general Seattle-ites, and for Tupelo, Belltown was up and coming when she was displaced. For us it was a hopping, colorful city center with shops, restaurants, and history. The homeless population was pushed out and harder to see now. Tupelo was still able to utilize spaces for community, socializing, a dog park, multiple grocery store options, businesses that have been there for a long time, safety.

In her new home “now I have no safe place to meet people…I am once again pushed out.” She can go to a corporate indoor plaza on the block, Century Square, which is where we met. But it’s only open during business hours. Security does not welcome outsiders loitering, especially those deemed “undesireables“. This space is only “public” to a certain type of public citizen; corporate employees. They don’t even pay to use this space, they are paid by the companies, which pay for this public space.
The library is too far, and it’s recent renovation is “designed to minimize homeless people lingering” which hurts her also. The library was a resource and place to spend time and watch movies. Now you are asked to move if you stay too long. “The colors are blaring, bright… seating is uncomfortable… and the look is industrial and corporate…”

“I’m in a food desert too”. There’s a lack of groceries. Target is nearby but has very little. The Kress IGA is near but it’s tiny and overpriced. There are convenience stores but they are completely unaffordable to her, “especially for monthly budget cooking”. The Soda tax has made something I would occasionally have as a treat completely unaffordable now. Pike’s Place Market is barely affordable to median-income Seattle residents, so out of reach for Tupelo. A food bank operates out of it but there is rarely and produce. Because food banks operate within zip codes, the lack of grocery stores affects who can donate to the food bank. Tupelo shared experiences of very little produce, getting slimy and moldy produce, and one instance of good produce being withheld by a food bank employee.

Tupelo’s home has Walkability Score of 99, however her story tells otherwise.

Tupelo Crime

According to Walkability this is a “Walker’s Paradise…[that] daily errands do not require a car”.

A quick google search on grocery stores also lines up with what Tupelo has shared.

Additionally, despite the supposed walkability here there is a high amount of crime:

Tupelo Walk

This interview has offered a look into the reality of the daily lives of residents’ here. I hope to humanize the experience of the low-income. These individuals are marginalized, and even when we see them they’re ignored. Please listen to their stories.

Read Tupelo’s blog here! “The Corner of Crack and Smack: How I ended up here, and why I stay.”


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