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SPD Hands Out Winter Weather Gear

Bryan Buckalew

Severe winter weather is tough on many people. The homeless are especially vulnerable. Shelters throughout Seattle are extending their hours during the snowstorm. And homeless advocacy groups, as well as the Seattle Police Department, are offering winter weather gear and rides to shelter. KUOW's Bryan Buckalew rode along with two officers and has this report.


At just past 10:00 p.m. on cold night in the International District, a long Ford police van pulls up in front of a dark stoop. Three homeless men and one woman are settling into sleeping bags. They stop when they see SPD. The van's driver side window rolls down, and Officer Chad McLaughlin leans out the window.

McLaughlin: "Ya'll warm enough? You need a blanket? Couple of blankets, probably some snacks?"

McLaughlin and his partner, Officer Bill Williams, are driving around to homeless camps offering to take people to emergency shelters for the night. Most refuse. They're not ready to climb into a police van. But they will take clothes, blankets and snacks.

McLaughlin: "Once someone gets a free pair of socks, everyoneís like, 'Oh Jesus, it's not a trap. They're not gonna start running names and snatching people up.' So people just want to stay warm."

At different stops, the officers rummage through bags in the back of the van. Williams asks people what color their coats are so he can find hats that match. There are: hand–me–down stocking caps with snowflake patterns; knit scarves in teal and pink; insulated gloves; overcoats; wool sweaters; bottles of water and Gatorade. It's all provided by Downtown Emergency Services. At a stop downtown, I ask a man named Richard where he usually stays.

Richard: "I stay in the streets of Seattle. Iím out here too, but I'm ready for it."

Bryan Buckalew: "Are you going to stay out tonight?"

Richard: "Yes, I am. But I have what I call — but I'll be as snug as a bug in a rug."

Buckalew: "Why donít you go to a shelter for tonight?"

Richard: "Well, it's not the shelters — the shelters are the most wonderful thing — but itís the people at the shelters that I donít like."

McLaughlin says for many sleeping outdoors, where they camp is their home. They don't want to leave, even in bad weather. We stop at a camp in South Seattle under I–5. McLaughlin and Williams fan out with their Mag lights, stopping by tents. No one takes the ride, but another man name Richard says he needs blankets. He has been camping under the interstate for three months.

Richard: "It's kind of been a humbling experience; not having a warm place to stay every night. Or steady work. Or a roof over the head."

Richard says he tries to stay positive, but it's hard because people have stolen his blankets and tarp. He accepts a new blanket, a wool sweater, some water and a bag of snacks. I ask about his plans for the rest of the night.

Richard: "Go back to bed. And try not to turn into a popsicle."

Richard turned back toward his camp, and McLaughlin and Williams got back in the van. By midnight, they'd hit all the usual spots. They'd handed out over 50 blankets between South Seattle and Queen Anne. They parked the van back at the precinct and talked about unloading it. But they decided against it. Two more officers would likely take it out the next night.

For KUOW News, Iím Bryan Buckalew.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW

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