By Linda Clark
We have all seen homeless people. Some stand on street corners holding signs, and others sit outside grocery stores. I have been approached more than once in parking lots of fast food restaurants by someone asking for spare change. I don’t think I am alone when I say, in the past, I have usually tried to avoid eye contact and ignore them. Nor do I think I am the only one who wonders why they are homeless. “What could have possibly happened in their life to turn them to life on the street?”
I want to share my story. This is a sad and difficult story to write…written from a mother’s heart; the homeless person is my son, Alex.
I grew up in Normandy Park. My father, Kenneth Friddell, was a nuclear physicist and worked for Boeing. He was, by far, one of the most brilliant people I have ever known. He was well-known and well-respected in the community and served as president of Normandy Park Cove for several years. I wasn’t lucky enough to inherit his brilliant mind, but one of my four children certainly did — my third-born child, Alexander. My father and Alex connected on an intellectual level far beyond anything most of us could imagine; they were best friends. They would often go to the movies and the driving range to hit golf balls. They had many deep discussions about the bible.
Alex grew up in our family home on Maplewild, attending St. Francis of Assisi, and skipping the 8th grade after testing confirmed he was academically beyond his grade. He graduated from high school with 36 college credits and a full scholarship to South Seattle Community College. Does this story sound like someone who could be homeless? I write this with tears streaming down my face, asking myself how someone with such high intellect and a bright future could possibly end up living homeless. This part of our story is where that happy “fairy tale life” we were accustomed to (and took for granted) ended.
On March 17, 2018, my father, Alex’s grandfather and best friend, died suddenly and unexpectedly. Alex and I walked in to find my dad on the living room floor while Medic One performed CPR and electric shocks to his heart for 21 minutes with no response. It was a traumatizing experience; our lives were changed forever that day. I remember looking over at Alex; he was sitting quietly on the footstool next to my dad’s body, holding my dad’s bible in his hands with tears running down his face. Despite his grief, I was very proud of Alex and his courage to volunteer to read my dad’s favorite Bible verse at his funeral (from a Bible that my dad had given Alex, which he cherishes and reads daily.) It is said that we all process grief differently; this is where Alex’s struggles began.
After my father’s passing, Alex asked if he could stay with my husband, Tim, and I for a few weeks. The “few weeks” turned into 19 months, during which time things changed dramatically with Alex. He had a series of dysfunctional relationships; he stopped going to work, lost his apartment, and lost interest in school. His prized beautiful Mustang was towed multiple times, and he started indulging in alcohol, recreational drugs, etc. Tim and I made the painful decision to make him leave our house. I believe the term is “tough love.” That was three years ago.
Presently, Alex is probably known as “the weird homeless guy with the junky green car. “Leaving our house meant just that…he quit living inside our house but continued living in his car in front of our house or the driveway. Our neighbors grew tired of looking at his unsightly car and witnessing his unpredictable behavior. We were asked to make Alex and his car leave our property. My heart aches for my neighbors, our other three children who don’t know how to help…and most of all for, Alex! Most people have no idea who he really is, what he could have become, and what he still can become.
It is a known fact that Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Mental Illness are very commonly found together. Which comes first? Do people with mental illness self-medicate, leading to drug addiction and homelessness?
It isn’t easy admitting that I have a child, someone I love so dearly and consider one of God’s greatest gifts/miracles, who is homeless, and that I am helpless to make things better. I feel like a failure as a parent, embarrassed when talking about it, and defensive when I see, hear and read things about Alex.
My goal for sharing this article is not to gain sympathy but to hopefully instill awareness and insight that every homeless person we encounter has a story about why they live on the streets. It has opened my eyes not to judge or assume anything when I see someone struggling and homeless: it could be someone like Alex.