Skid Road

Skid Road: On the Frontier of Health and Homelessness in an American City is a narrative history, set in my hometown of Seattle, Washington. Skid Road explores the intersection of safety net health care and homelessness. Skid Road will include both a print book (forthcoming, spring 2021 Johns Hopkins University Press) and a companion video project, a collection of oral histories, digital storytelling videos (DSs), photographs, and essays. Skid Road deepens our understanding of the historical roots of poverty and homelessness, trauma and resilience, and the role of charity and safety net health care and public policy in King County. I am interested in how a large, socially progressive urban area like King County responds to the health needs of people marginalized by poverty and homelessness.

From the county’s formation in 1852, the King County Commissioners—and King County taxpayers—have been responsible for supporting indigents, paupers, ill, insane, and homeless people living in the county. Beginning with the 1877 establishment of the King County Poor Farm in what is now Georgetown, through the 1931 opening of Harborview Hospital on Profanity Hill, to the current array of regional trauma care and community-based services of the Harborview Medical Center, Public Health—Seattle & King County (including Health Care for the Homeless Network), the leaders and residents of King County have wrestled with ways to fulfill this public mandate and mission.

The topic of Skid Road is timely as our country wrestles with a continuing healthcare reform debate that includes how to provide health care for people experiencing poverty and homelessness. It is timely in that the Great Recession and now the COVID-19 pandemic have forced more people to experience—or to fear experiencing—homelessness. It is timely in that homelessness is increasing in King County, along with the ongoing political debates about housing, encampment sweeps, treatment for people with chronic mental illness and substance use issues, as well as other public policy options for addressing this complex problem.

I’ll update this site as more material, including published essays, becomes available.

For an incredibly moving short video segment and accompanying story on the effects of the Yesler Terrace public housing redevelopment (AKA destruction),  check out the Seattle Times 10-31-15 story by Bob Young, “Some question if Yesler spirit will live on after redevelopment.”

Here are several edited oral history interviews that I use in teaching and advocacy work:

Here is a gallery of photographs of people who have completed oral history interviews with me for the project. As of December 2017 I have completed thirty-six oral history interviews with people who work—and live—at the intersection of health and homelessness in King County. They will be archived in the University of Washington Special Collections in Seattle.


This project was supported, in part, by an award from 4Culture. Additional support for the audio portion of the DS videos comes from Jack Straw Productions. My Skid Road project is also funded, in part, by the University of Washington Simpson Center for the Humanities, the University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Humanities Washington.


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