Who Was John T Williams? He’s One of Many

Came across this post at United Way of King County Blog and thought it interesting as it successfully puts a face and a compelling life story behind the plight if many homeless individuals across the country. I’m fairly certain that Young John didn’t have childhood dreams of growing up to be an alcoholic and be homeless…Here’s the story:

Vince Matulionis, our director of our ending homelessness work, recently sent this e-mail to United Way of King County staff.

By now I’m certain that most of you have probably heard about the recent shooting death of a homeless individual named John T. Williams.

If not, read the Seattle Times piece on the incident. Also a slightly different perspective on the incident from Real Change News.

In a manner of speaking it turns out that John Williams was one of our guys.  John had been homeless off and on for years.  He was a well know “chronic inebriate” and a resident of 1811 Eastlake.  By just about any definition John was one of our community’s “most vulnerable.”   He was one of those individuals that our Campaign to End Chronic Homelessness is focused on moving from the streets into permanent, supportive housing.

John Williams was a member of the Ditidaht First Nation (a small, remote community on the west coast of Vancouver Island).  He comes from a family of carvers.  John originally learned to carve in the tradition of his tribe when he was 6.  Unfortunately, he started drinking when he was 7.  (Incidentally, the Williams family has been selling their carvings to Ye Olde Curiosity Shop since the 1880s.)

John comes from a family of 12 brothers and sisters.  Alcohol and abuse were regular features of his childhood and John and his siblings spent much of their childhood shuffling between foster homes and homelessness.  Only three of his siblings remain.  One of his brothers froze to death on a park bench on Vancouver.  Another brother suffered a heart attack and died in the Pike Place Market.

John Williams was shot by a Seattle Police officer.  As you might imagine, there is a growing controversy surrounding this issue which will likely play out over the next several weeks and months.  Regardless of the controversy, I hope we don’t forget that there are still a lot of folks like John still out there.

It takes time for individuals like John to stabilize their lives but we know that it can’t be done without a place to call home.  The encouraging news is that this fall (between late August and Nov.) we’ll be opening nearly 400 additional units of permanent, supportive housing for folks just like John.  This is, by any reckoning, the single largest expansion of housing stock for homeless individuals in recent history.  While this housing can’t prevent the death of individuals like John Williams it can help ensure that our community’s most vulnerable citizens do have a safe, clean place to call home.

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