Introducing Mack—and another side of Seattle’s homelessness crisis

A glimpse of Compass Housing Alliance’s Road to Housing program

By Brett Renville, documentary filmmaker and guest blogger for Compass Housing Alliance

 When you see the homelessness crisis that is gripping our city, the first thing that comes to mind is the need for shelter for the night and a hot meal. But how often do you think about someone who is living out of their car or RV? Who needs a generator to keep warm and gas to keep it running? What about someone who could go to friends or family for help, but mechanical troubles keep them from getting their car on the road?

When I set out to produce a short video—“Charting Futures, Changing Lives”—for Compass Housing Alliance, I was introduced to a program called Road to Housing (R2H) and I discovered a whole new dimension of challenges and needs that define homelessness in our city.

R2H is a program that provides homeless adults and families with children living in their vehicle a safe place to park. But it’s much more than a parking spot. The program is a stop on the road out of homelessness and into permanent, affordable housing. While I was filming, I discovered a people-centric program and the impact it has in addressing each person’s individual needs.

Meeting Mack in his RV

During production, I had the pleasure of meeting Mack, who, I’d guess is about 70 years old, with an impressive beard and a big personality. He immediately called me brother and loved my camera. He’s an optimist and a pessimist. He didn’t say why he was homeless, but he can’t walk and his medical condition confines him to his RV. If you want to talk to him, you wait for him to pop his head out the window. As Compass Housing Alliance staff checked in on him, I learned more about Mack and what it’s like to live out of an RV parked in the middle of the city.

Mack talks to his parking lot neighbors, he reads the Bible, he cooks for himself. Limited mobility means that Mack spends a fair amount of time watching Netflix. Yet with train tracks lining one side of the parking lot, the thundering noise they generate as they roll by, along with the deafening blare of horns, I wondered how he slept through the night.

Road to Housing offers support

In their outreach, the Compass Housing Alliance team has built a relationship with Mack. They ask about his health, help him fill prescriptions, drive him to doctor’s appointments, bring him gas for his generator, and with whatever else he might need. But ultimately, the goal is to do whatever it takes to help Mack, and his neighbors in the parking lot, to progress toward finding stability and housing. For Mack, the goal is to get healthy. That’s the first stop in his transition out of homelessness. Then, he plans on getting his driver’s license and driving to Idaho, where he has friends, to settle down and spend the rest of his days.

Mack introduced me to another side of Seattle, which we think of as a world-class city, with so much innovative energy and resources, yet with a growing population, who call their cars their homes. Mack is just one in the many individuals – dare I say hundreds – that make R2H such a compelling outreach program. Compass Housing Alliance provides assistance and support to start their road to housing. In meeting Mack, I discovered the impact of their work is paramount.

About Brett Renville:
Brett Renville is a documentary and commercial Cinematographer and Director, based in Seattle, WA. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Brett developed a love for the natural world, and in his work, transferring the essence of a subject – be it human, of the animal variety, the environment, or a simple moment in time – is Brett’s passion and craft; drawing meaningful stories into focus through the lens of the camera. For more info about Brett please visit: brettrenville.com