by M. Barrett Miller, ’68
In View from the Tent: Thoughts from a Homeless Man, M. Barrett Miller, ’68, presents a compilation of letters written to him over several years by a homeless man named Atreus, who had lived in various shelters and on the streets of Seattle. Miller became acquainted with Atreus through his work with the homeless; Miller is the managing director of Let Kids Be Kids, a nonprofit organization committed to social justice issues, including poverty, homelessness and HIV/AIDS.
For several years Atreus and Miller kept up their exchange. Miller writes, “Over time I would ask questions or hand him a question I had written out for his consideration. Sometimes I would get an answer and other times I would be ignored.”
Miller says Atreus is “a man who was crushed by violence and loss. His reflections and stories will give hope to those people supporting others in similar situations, living in the outskirts of society.”
Atreus’ letters are full of powerful insights about what it means to be homeless. In articulate prose, he vividly details his experiences on the streets and describes circumstances in ways that allow the reader into his world.
Frequently Atreus writes of the lack of consistency in his life. It’s a life of continuously packing up and relocating to one temporary site or encampment after another. The transitory nature of his living arrangements means constantly adjusting to new surrounds and people. Through his writing, Atreus also touches on the opposition from community members who do not want homeless encampments set up in their neighborhoods.
While he says he understands why some are wary or afraid of what he calls this “band of rovers” that shows up on their block, he opens up about how feeling unwanted takes its toll.
In his letters, Atreus is adamant that he does not want to dwell on the circumstances that brought him to “this place” in his life. While he provides occasional clues about his life before homelessness, his past is mostly a mystery.
While Atreus’ own history comes out only in bits, he opens up about another homeless man named James, who was once a shrimp fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico. When Hurricane Katrina hit, James lost everything. Although he was relocated to Seattle with a group of New Orleans–area residents shortly after the storm, James still struggles to get back on his feet.
James’ story, and that of so many homeless individuals, shows that all it takes is one tragedy, one disaster, one mistake to turn a life upside down. Atreus writes, “Priests, Rabbis, Mullahs, showgirls, soccer moms, insurance salespeople ... they may not be that much different from the lot of us.”