Pongo Project Journal

Sharing stories of our work with teens
Mar 03
I Remember the One Time

I Remember the One Time

By a man living at 1811 Eastlake, Downtown Emergency Service Center Housing


I remember the one time,

I walked from San Larenzo California

All the way through the rain,

South 50 miles, 14 years old.


One night I sat on a toilet,

To stay dry.

Shit, I was so cold, wet.


Went to the police station,

Told them I’m a runaway.

Ran me through the system.

Confirmed it.


Can’t take you home,

But can take you to Oakland.

I was under arrest,

Took me to juvi,

Then up the hill to Las Ceros Boys Home.


My mom found me there,

Asked if I was ready to come home.

I said, ‘yeah mom.’


Thought I’d get punished,

But she was just happy to see me.

Asked why I left.


I said,

I just read Huckleberry Fin,

And I wanted to hit the road.




In a place filled with people the world has thrown away, I find a sense of hope. Two blocks away from R.E.I., Seattleites’ sacred ground, there is an overpass that leads to the matrix of 1811 Eastlake. It is a different world, they call it the Denny Triangle, a place like the Bermuda, where a person can get lost in the concrete jungle. Street kids sit at the entrance, keeping warm on cardboard boxes pulled from recycling bins and blankets they have collected from highway passes and street corners.


Walking through the doors of 1811 it is difficult to know what to expect. One resident often sits near the front desk singing Diana Ross, waiting patiently for his morning beer. Each Thursday morning, “I don’t want to lose you,” is the soundtrack to my experience at 1811, fitting as seven people have passed away in the first fourteen weeks of our project.


Hauling coffee and muffins to entice residents to write poetry, we hold our morning meeting in the community room, speaking softly as our own poetry carries the weight of the emotional stories these walls have seen. Working one-on-one the visible inebriation, scarring and bruising from drunken falls, bodies weak from the years of alcoholism, slurred words tell stories of loss and pain. Loved ones who died in their arms, children who have also fallen victim to addiction, memories from a time before the alcohol began to strangle their existence.


To the world around these walls, many seem to think, “why can’t they just….?” Just be normal, just get a job, just disappear. Their lives have been tormented from the battlefields of Vietnam, nightmares of taking lives to protect a country who stole their identity, their culture and their hearts. Memories of coming home from school to find a mother dead on the kitchen floor. Alcohol has been a small bandage to cover the massiveness of their open wounds.


Compared to my experience working in detention, hope looks very different at 1811. While the pain and abuse so many of the children we work with haunt me, there is hope for change, a second chance, a way to build a life they are proud to lead. Detention is sometimes a short chapter in a lifetime to come, but in 1811, for many, this is the end of the road.


Hope is being one of the lucky ones with walls and a bed to keep them warm, a space where they can leave this world with the dignity of having a place to call home. Hope is waking up in the morning, hearing a simple hello from a familiar face, people to care whether you leave your room today. Hope is not having to sleep outside amidst the trash built up on the sides of the freeway, a spot where discarded orange peels and plastic bottles have come to call home. Hope is having someone to care, someone to talk to, someone to remember you, someone to provide humanness and the release of putting their words to paper. Hope is having the opportunity to hear a person say, “Thank you for listening to my story.”


--Vanessa, Project Lead at 1811