Homeless in Seattle: How one young man ended up on the city's streets

SEATTLE -- On a recent night, Jordan “Jordi” Wright and a friend sat on a railing across the street from the federal courthouse in Seattle, packing a bowl of weed and talking about their lives.

“I’ve been doing meth since I was 12 years old,” said Wright, coughing from a hit of pot.

Wright, 24, grew up in a suburb of Omaha, Neb., and said he left home a decade ago after a disagreement with his mother.

“Because I didn’t believe in God and that was too much for my mom to handle,” he said.

In his early teens and without a place to stay, Wright couch-surfed through high school, and then set out on a cross-country journey that brought him to Seattle from Denver a few months ago.

He said his friends always told him that “being homeless in Seattle would be the best place.”

“It’s really fun here,” he said. “It’s chill. It’s laid back. It’s easy.”

Jordan is now one of hundreds of teens and young adults across King County who are believed to be homeless or unstably housed on any given night.

After just a short time in Seattle, Wright met Jackie St. Louis, the newly appointed manager of street outreach for the Metropolitan Improvement District. He and his team help connect the city’s homeless to the services they need.

St. Louis offered to help Jordan get his life on track.

“He wants to help me out and do all these things, which I’m really down for, but he won’t do it unless I get off drugs,” Jordan said.

It is a tradeoff he’s not willing to make.

“I’m 24. I’m perfectly fine with the way I am. I’ve been this way my whole life.”

Jordan called himself a “drug addict.” When asked what types of drugs he uses, he replied simply: “All of them.”

He and his friends spend many of their nights hanging out on the benches in Westlake Park – a busy shopping district that is just steps from Pike Place Market, the city’s most popular tourist destination. They can often be seen standing on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Pine Street, clouded by the strong smell of marijuana.

In recent months, the city has stepped up efforts to combat so-called “street disorder” in the area, which includes low-level quality of life crimes that center around the homeless population.

The Seattle Police Department created a new unit focused on enforcing city ordinances that prohibit people from sleeping or sitting on sidewalks or in storefronts. The so-called Neighborhood Response Team also cracks down on other low-level offenses – like smoking pot in public – while also trying to see if those violating the ordinances would benefit from services.

Wright said he and his friends are aware that the city would like them out of the area, but he said – frankly – he doesn’t care and is not willing to take any help they may offer.

Jordan said he understands the life he’s living isn’t for everyone. He said he looks out for younger kids who end up on the streets through no fault of their own.

“The ones that can go home, we tell them to go home. The ones that can’t, we look out for them. That’s all we can do,” he said.

One of Jordan’s friends, a 15-year-old who goes only by the nickname “Sourpatch,” said he would like to find a way off the streets. He claimed his mother tried to sell him for crack, which is how he ended up homeless in Seattle.

“I’m trying to get to Dallas to move into a house with my homeboy,” he said.

Jordan, too, is looking to leave Seattle. He said the people downtown aren’t friendly and the weather is dampening his mood. He said he has been working in recent years to reconnect with his family, and wouldn’t rule out a move back to Nebraska someday.

In the meantime, he said he continues to talk with Jackie St. Louis of the Metropolitan Improvement District about where his life is heading.