Allen doesn’t present like the typical resident of a homeless encampment.
“He’s not struggling with the type of addictions that you often see. He’s not struggling with severe mental illness,” says Vianna Davila, editor of the Project Homeless team at The Seattle Times. “He’s known as kind of a cook, chef, around the mitigation site.”
The mitigation site is a sanctioned camp in Olympia — the center of a podcast series by Project Homeless and KNKX Public Radio called “Outsiders,” hosted by KNKX’s Will James.
“I can cook anything you can name,” Allen says. “I’m an excellent cook. Everybody in here loves my cooking.”
Allen worked his whole life, living in various places over the years. But one night in Tacoma changed his life forever.
He was out with his nephew, looking for “dancing girls,” as he politely describes it. They encountered a woman who promised a good time.
Instead, she started driving the pair down dead-end roads. Allen tried calling off the evening. He offered the woman money to turn around, but she pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot the men if they didn’t give money to her.
“I told her where to stick it,” Allen said. “And so, she shot me in the head.”
Allen still has the scar, a reminder of the long recovery that was the beginning of his road to living outside.
“That kind of begins his spiral of homelessness,” Davila says.
Allen is unlike his neighbors at the mitigation site in another way, too. He is one of the only people who identifies as black. And it isn’t the first time Allen looks different than most of the people around him.
“I was the only black kid in my grade,” he says. “There was only three black kids in the whole school.”
Generally, African Americans are overrepresented among people living outside — they are a bigger share of the homeless population than they are of the general population.
Olympia is a very white city. And some days, when “Outsiders” host Will James walks around town, the only people of color he sees are homeless.
“For people of color, not a lot of terrible crisis things have to happen for them to fall into homelessness,” Davila says.
Listen above to learn more about Allen’s story, as well as the network impoverishment, structural racism and other factors that thin the margins for people of color.
For many unsheltered people, the cause of homelessness is often rooted deep in the past. In Episode 3 of “Outsiders,” a podcast series from KNKX Public Radio and The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless team, we look at the circumstances that bend people’s lives toward homelessness.