Note to Reader: What you are about to read is one homeless man’s account of why he is homeless. This individual consented to the interview and could refuse to answer any question. This is his story; take it as you will.
Born in Searcy, Arkansas, Ryan East’s parents were not much of a factor in his early life.
“My father left us when I was three; by the time I was 10 my mother was hooked on meth. I left home the next year,” he began as he sat on the edge of a building in an alley in the 600 block of Capitol Way South in downtown Olympia.
East went on to say that he lived with his grandparents until he almost completed high school. “I punched the principal in the face for having lied to me about my graduation requirements,” he recalled, “and that got me expelled.”
Partnering with an older homeless man, East left Searcy. For the next three years, East said they rode the rails through Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama and Texas.
“Along the way, I worked at odd jobs – mowing lawns, picking up trash – anything to make a little bit of money,” he continued. While riding another freight train in 2002 across the Mohave Desert bound for California, East was stabbed in the side by another homeless man. To save himself, he jumped off the
slow-moving train. “I managed to stop the bleeding by plugging the wound,” he
recounted, “and then I started walking. I had no idea where to go.”
After three days in the desert without food and water, he was found unconscious just off the side of a road and taken to a hospital. “I spent eight days there being treated for dehydration, exhaustion and the loss of blood,” he added.
Released from the hospital, East eventually got to California where for the next 11 years he worked on a fishing boat based in Los Angeles. “I remember we sometimes came to Grays Harbor, usually for bait,” continued East. “Then one day the owner of the boat, who lived in eastern Washington, offered to give me a place to live and a better job in agriculture. I figured, why not?”
East liked the work and spent another eight years working to maintain a cherry orchard. “I even headed up a crew of laborers,” he added.
But he also mentioned that he had used drugs on and off throughout his life, and that he had done so because he was lonely. Unfortunately, his habit had grown and this in turn led to him losing his job. “Yeah, I used them; too much. But I did so because sometimes life just doesn’t seem to matter much anymore, that no one cares about me.”
After being let go, East arrived in Olympia about a year-and-a-half ago where he found an apartment where he rented a couch for $150 per month.
“Things haven’t work out; I can’t find work; and I got kicked out of the apartment,” he related. “I’ve been living on the streets ever since.”
Asked if he had sought any help to address his housing or substance abuse, he simply replied that he did not want to live in a shelter.
“I just want to take care of myself. I keep hoping that everything will work out, but the drugs let me get away from it all,” he said.
“I’m just tired of being alone.”
JM Simpson - jm@theJOLTnews.com - is a veteran photojournalist who lives in Lacey.
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