The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 51
Published 5/15/13 | Log In
Anthony Douglas has been a guest of the men’s shelter at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission for 32 years.
Photo credit: AVA VAN/The Falcon.
Douglas’ perspective changes after ankle infection, losing Social Security
By AVA VAN, Photographer
Published: February 8, 2012
While many people headed home to avoid the snowstorm that hit Seattle in late January, dozens of others, such as Anthony Douglas, waited in line for dinner outside the men’s shelter at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.
Douglas has been doing this every day for the last 32 years.
“Every day, I wake up feeling happy to just be able to breathe God’s life,” he said.
Douglas said his perspective changed after an accident left the right side of his body paralyzed. He’s been homeless for longer than not.
“It was hard living on the streets at first, but after a while, you kind of get used to it,” Douglas said with a smile. “It’s not so bad during other seasons.”
Terry Pallas, the director of the shelter Douglas frequents, has seen people living in long-term homelessness before.
“We serve about 600 homeless people a day, and about 25 of them are long-term individuals,” he said.
But, Pallas said, long-term cases like Douglas’ is rare because of the hard conditions on the streets.
“Most don’t live past 10 years,” Pallas said. “He’s really lucky to still be alive.”
At 5 feet tall and about 100 pounds, Douglas carries all of his belongings in a small white garbage bag. He greets almost every passerby.
Originally from Jackson County, Kan., Douglas moved to Seattle in 1980 after dropping out of school in ninth grade and working for a time at a horse stable. He lived in an apartment and worked washing dishes at the Kingdome, Safeco Field’s predecessor.
“But I wasn’t making enough,” Douglas said, shaking his head. “The rent was expensive.”
When he lost his job, he had nowhere to go, so he lived on the streets.
One day, Douglas was walking around Pioneer Square when he tripped and hurt his right ankle. Thinking the pain would eventually go away, he ignored it.
“But you see, the pain wouldn’t go away,” he said.
When Douglas had it checked out by a doctor, he was told he sprained it quite badly and that he wouldn’t be able to walk for a while. For the next seven years, he moved around in a wheelchair and then a walker as it got better.
“But suddenly, the pain started to come back again,” he said. “My ankle was hurting really bad during a church service, so the staff called an ambulance.”
When he arrived at the hospital, Douglas learned that his ankle had a serious infection. He was faced with the decision to either lose his ankle or die. He agreed to have it severed.
However, when Douglas woke up, he realized he couldn’t move his right leg or right arm. The right side of his body was paralyzed.
For the next couple of weeks, Douglas stayed in a nursing home, where he received physical therapy. The nursing staff was hopeful he would get better through treatment.
“They put my arm and leg in this machine that moved them up and down, but I still couldn’t move the right side of my body,” Douglas said. “So one day, I left the nursing home.”
Douglas said he receives almost $500 a month of Social Security income, a benefit reserved for senior citizens and disabled people. He used to receive more. After he left the nursing home, the checks were reduced.
“My social worker told me it’s because I didn’t do the treatments anymore,” Douglas said. “This is why I’m also scared to get a job. My social worker told me the government wouldn’t give me the disability money or medical coupons if I start working.”
Douglas said he believes even if he did work, he wouldn’t make enough to live on.
“I don’t think I could get a job,” Douglas said. “I’m disabled. I also don’t have any skills or trade, but if I [could] somehow got a job, I would take it.”
Since Douglas wasn’t getting as many benefits from Social Security as he had been and wasn’t able to do the basic things he used to do, he felt helpless. So he turned to the only person he had left.
“I said to God one day to please heal me from the pain that I was suffering and that in exchange I would promise to become a better person,” he said.
Douglas said he grew up knowing God, but turned away from him later in his life until then. Unexpectedly, weeks later, he started to slowly have some feeling in his right leg and hand.
“It was a miracle,” Douglas said. “I was able to lift my right hand and leg.
“I look at life differently after that incident. Since then, I’ve been trying to be a good person. I’m not a hundred percent good, but I’ve been trying for God.”
Now, Douglas has plans for his future.
“I don’t know what the future looks like in five years, but I’m prepping to go to Oakland,” Douglas said. “Hopefully I get a job. I’ve been wanting to work for a long time, and it would be nice to have an apartment again.
“I am determined to change my life around.”