Example of how unorthodox homelessness can be

Photo by Gregor Elgee
Caption: CEO student Emanuel Morgan and his case manager Pratna Kao. Morgan has spent significant time homeless in Seattle.

by Gregor Elgee

Emanuel Morgan doesn’t hide the fact that he grew up financially secure. An 18-year-old student with designer jeans, an iPhone, and sunglasses, it comes as a surprise to find out he’s been homeless for the past two-and-a-half years.

Currently enrolled in SCC’s Career Education Options (CEO), a program that offers 16-21 year old students without a GED the chance to attain an education, Morgan has journeyed from Pullman, to Idaho to Seattle to Shoreline, having emancipated himself from his parents at age 17 to live in transitional housing after they found out he was gay.

“In a town where everybody knew my parents, it was difficult,” says Morgan. “I think there were 3 people in Pullman that I knew of that had come out at that time… with such a small community, it was not the greatest place to be gay.”

Morgan decided to lawyer up when he turned 17. He connected with a local public defender and had his mother sign a lease granting him his own apartment in neighboring Moscow. But he says after a short time the relationship with his parents worsened. He eventually decided to move to Seattle.

Morgan made accommodations in “ISIS,” a transit house in the U-district. Run by Youth Care, an organization which provides services to homeless youth, Morgan lived in the transit house for the next month alongside nearly half a dozen other LGBTQ teenagers. The place seemed nice enough but Morgan’s living situation fell apart when he got in an argument with a staff member.

Youth Care was unable to comment about the altercation due to confidentiality but Morgan says that after he left a pot of water on the stove to talk on his phone, a staff member who Morgan said he had arguments with in the past, told him that he needed to leave ISIS.

Without a grievance procedure, Morgan says he moved to “Roots” that same day, a shelter with a standard of living much worse than ISIS. About 45 people stayed at the shelter each night with about 80-100 showing up beforehand. The first 40 people were allowed to spend the night on the rows of mattresses. The last five were “lotto’d” (drawn from a cup).

“I was lotto’d many nights,” says Morgan. “About 3 to 4 nights a week I was on the street.”

As the weather got colder and Morgan still didn’t have steady housing, he became increasingly more desperate. He got food from soup kitchens and free meals provided by his shelter but was faced with difficulties that made food seem like an afterthought.

“With being homeless, you share everything,” says Morgan. There’s no such thing as “I own” because everybody who’s homeless owns it. You could try to protect something with your life but there’s always someone going to be bigger and badder than you who’s going to come for it…”

Often giving jeans or shirts to homeless people who he thought needed them more than he did, Morgan kept close to his phone at all times, using it to call the cops when people tried to steal his belongings.

“I was very worried about my stuff at first and I thought I needed to buy a lock for my suitcase. But after things started disappearing and I ended up getting assaulted or threatened to get killed over something I was just like ‘OK, if you want my jeans, go for it…”

Morgan’s homeless friends occasionally saved up money to get into a hotel for a night. But when Morgan wasn’t staying at the shelter, most nights were spent in tents, on the street or in nearby parks. Sometimes he would exchange sex for a place to stay.

“You’d be surprised how easy it is to find someone who is willing to give money for sex,“ says Morgan. “I don’t think people get that there’s big places to do that; on the Ave, in parks.”

While Morgan’s situation seemed to becoming more and more dire, his life took a turn when he enrolled at Roosevelt High School. Through the McKinney Vento act Morgan was ensured educational stability as a homeless youth.

“I didn’t look like a homeless person,” says Morgan. “People just thought, ‘oh there’s Emanuel, he’s crazy.”

Morgan was able to stay under the radar for the first month of school. When staff began inquiring as to why he was applying for free lunch however, he eventually told several staff, including the vice principal, about his situation. After his confession he was allowed to show up to shower in the locker room every morning at 6 a.m.. As more and more people started to find out about Morgan’s situation, his support network grew.

“At a certain point I decided that I couldn’t hide it anymore,” says Morgan “I decided it was easier to tell people that I was homeless than it was to try to explain why my hair looked like I had stuck it in a light socket every morning…I was really surprised by how many people were willing to help me. Students, teachers, parents. They all offered me a place to stay.”

While Morgan’s situation seemed to be improving, things really started looking up when he told his PE teacher about his situation.

“He said ‘how are you doing that and able to be here?’… and one day we were playing soccer outside and he said, ‘Hey Emanuel, come here, I wanna tell you something.”

Morgan was introduced to an elderly couple in Edmonds that day. They gave him their guest house to stay in from November to March 2015 . Around the same time, Morgan was re-accepted into transitional housing and enrolled in SCC’s CEO program, a decision that was influenced by Roosevelt’s desire to help better accommodate Morgan’s situation.

“We (provide) students in our program a unique funding situation. “ says Pratna Kao, Morgan’s CEO case manager at SCC. “Tuition, books, fees, and transportation are paid for until they’re 21 years old… With the support of CEO case managers, we hope that connecting students to resources such as food stamps, transitional housing, and internship opportunities, that they (will be) in a better position to succeed than when they joined.”