Editor's note: This story is part of a weekly KREM series called 'Short Stories'
SPOKANE, Wash. – John Warren has lived on the streets of Spokane for nearly 30 years. In the winter, he says homelessness is particularly painful for him – both physically and emotionally.
Warren approached KREM photographer Nathan Brand as he was loading gear into his vehicle on Monday and said, “I have a story for you.” At first, Brand was taken aback, but he soon realized Warren just wanted to chat about what he was experiencing.
Warren said he had been wandering the streets for several days begging for help from local organizations and Sacred Heart Hospital and their answer was, “What does this have to do with me?”
“I may be a drug addict but our lives mean something,” he said. “It’s pretty sad when you’re begging and begging and begging for help and someone says, ‘What’s that got to do with me?’ Our lives matter – whether that’s big or small.”
Brand asked Warren what he would tell people who say he should seek refuge at a shelter. His response: that’s not always an option. When Brand and Warren spoke at 5:30 a.m. on Monday, Warren told him he was not aware of any shelters that would take people in at that hour.
The city is currently operating four warming centers. Three of those are spearheaded by the Guardians Foundation. The foundation’s executive director Michael Shaw told KREM that those centers saw a huge influx of people when the mild January transitioned to a harsh and snowy February.
Shaw said the shelters’ numbers in February were double what they typically are and they always operated at just about capacity.
On Monday morning, Warren said he would “freeze his a-- off” for the next several hours before heading down to Goodwill Industries and sitting on the porch until it opened.
“People just don’t care. You know what I mean?” he said.
Despite this lack of concern, Warren said many treat him and other homeless residents with kindness.
“Thank you very much for everybody that helps us. It means more than you even know. This backpack, it ain’t got a whole bunch in it, but I tell you...this can be a lifesaver man, I’m telling you. Socks are always good.”
Warren said he has a titanium hip after breaking it twice, which has contributed to his inability to find work.
“I’ll work. Give me a chance. Straight up,” he said. "The reason why I am the way I am tonight is because I've been begging for two days for help. My legs hurt so bad I can't even walk, and it ain't so much the pain, it's ... a lot is emotional and everything that's going on."
Warren left his home nearly 30 years ago when he was 14 and has been homeless ever since.
"I was stupid and I was 14. I thought I knew everything. Yeah, a little bit rough at home a bit. We were really struggling but mom and dad, you know, ten, twelve Christmas presents each under the tree every year. Still can't figure out how they pulled it off but I was stupid and I left and I tried to go back and tough love, you know? You made the choice, right?" Warren said.
One important piece of advice Warren offered: don’t judge a book by its cover.
“It [homelessness] is not always by choice. Some of us are. Go sleep outside at 4 o’clock in the morning and tell me how cold it is. Would you want to do this all the time?” he said.
“Every life matters. Every life matters. That’s what I’m pushing and I push it the hardest,” Warren added.