Behind the cut is a transcript of my conversation with homeless youth, Ghost (aged 21),
on the subject of dumpster-diving which he is well known for amongst the homeless
street youth in Seattle.
"I’m pretty sure I started about 6-7 years ago, maybe earlier. When I was younger my dad used to dumpster-dive to get my Christmas presents. He’d take me to the dumpsters – like behind Value Village - and just grab a bunch of stuff and say, “Hey, this is Christmas!” So I started out really early knowing what dumpster-diving was and what dumpsters were good and what dumpsters weren’t. And as I got older, being out on the streets, I started going to the college fraternities and stuff, just out of curiosity, at the end of the semesters, and I’d come out with bags and bags of laptops and stuff. People get rid of them. It’s the most amazing thing. They just get them as gifts and they use it for 2 days and they don’t like it no more or it’s obsolete so they just get rid of it. So dumpster-diving is great at the end of semesters or at the end of the holiday season or during spring cleaning. It’s really great.
Like with me, I’ve just got this spur-of-the-moment look where I’ll just open up a trash can and find the most amazing things. Like something will have a hole in it and that’s god-awful nowadays because it just makes you look so tacky. Like those knee-high boots that I have, I just jumped in a Rite-Aid garbage looking for random food and stuff co’s they throw away anything expired over a day and I jumped in the garbage can and I found the boots. They were just sitting there – new boots – all they had was one hole in ‘em and that was it.
Where the main shopping areas are, yea, I’ll go through there. A lot of the businesses, once they get things returned, they just throw them away. I’ve went off and found boxes of like $2500.00 worth of Palm Pilots. Like full boxes of them. Like I’m not talking about little tiny boxes, like one, I’m talking where they were all tore out of their boxes and thrown in a giant storage box.
Yea, there’s a lot of money in a lot of that stuff out there. A lot of times I’d go and sell things at the flea markets or the barter fairs or I’d go just bartering around. Like I’d barter the stuff for what I need. Like ‘I got what you want and you got what I need’ kind of thing.
Very recently, me and Thirteen were dumpster-diving in a garbage by the Greyhound station. We were throwing around bags and going through them. That’s actually one of the better ones co’s like 30 days later they throw away everything in the lockers. And you can get a whole bunch of new packs and a whole bunch of new clothes. And we were throwing around bags and he ended up catching me in the head with a bag and busted my head open. I still got the scar on my head right there. I got my head cracked open and I was pouring blood everywhere. There’s still a blood trail from the greyhound station all the way up to Freeway Pk.
There was a time that I was walking down by the piers and I was really hungry so I ended up dumpster-diving for food and I found this big bag and I’m wondering why there’s this big bag in another bag and I pulled it out and it was this whole wedding platter of meat and cheese and fruit and vegetables. It was just unbelievable. I was just about to give up. I had only found a half-eaten bag of chips and a piece of sandwich and was thinking I’m not going to get much, then I found that.
The pack that I have now - the big black pack that I usually carry around – I found that in the garbage along with a bunch of clothes. It’s easier to get clothes from there [the dumpsters] than it is to get them from the donations places co’s they don’t really give you good clothes at all. They give you what’s left of what the thrift stores can’t sell.
But downtown a lot of the stores will lock their garbage cans unfortunately. They either lock them or they have them in their garages so you can’t really get down there co’s they don’t allow public access. It’s really unfortunate co’s it makes it a lot harder to get things you need. Especially for me, being a barterer, it’s harder for me to get a lot of the tools they need.
Yea, the things you find, it’s like currency out here. It’s a way of survival. This guy needs a pack and I may want something, he may have something that I really need. It’s a profit set. You know we [homeless street kids] don’t have that much money and the money we use, a lot of it is used for addictions or for food or for some kind of entertainment co’s out here there ain’t really much entertainment but sitting on a corner with a sign or sitting up in a park. So you got what you got. A lot of things we got here we bartered off so we’d have something different, so you don’t always have the same clothes or the same stuff.
You gotta do what you gotta do in this place. Not everybody has the hand-outs -not all these shelters and not all these food banks give you the right stuff. A lot of them give you expired stuff. I’d rather go to a Pizza Hut dumpster and pull out a full pizza and be able to eat that and be full than go to a food bank and get some meager portion and be hungry later. That used to be one of my favorite places to go dumpster-diving is at the pizza shops co’s at the end of the day they throw out everything that people ordered and don’t pick up or un-order. So I’d go up and get 10-15 pizzas and be able to feed myself for the next couple days.
My dad used to do it. My mom used to do it. A lot of my dad’s friends used to do it. It kind of brought me into it. When it started out, it was fun. Then it got addicting. Then it became a compulsion. Now every time I walk by a garbage can I have to look inside it. Every garbage can, I go through. Every place I walk I’ll go through them. I’ve got umpteen pairs of shoes at my squat and clothes that I don’t wear and umpteen blankets that people use and leave.
I found a book of old coins in this dumpster in Portland, OR. It was worth like 900 bucks. It was all old U.S. currency taken from people who were forging money so it was like the forgery of the money and so it was worth even more. Like it had forged pennies from 1920, 1910. I sold it for $900.00 to a coin shop.
At a mental institution I found a bunch of old institution records from the 1800’s. There were photographs and documents though a lot of it got destroyed co’s I had a storage unit and everything got wet and was ruined. Destroyed.
Now they’ve got these new compactors, these new trash compactors that they’re starting to replace the old garbage cans with. It actually compacts all the trash. It’s a new style of garbage can. I’ve seen a couple of them now. It’s amazing. People throw away so much stuff and all of it is going to waste.
I do this with no shame. I’ve been doing this a lot of years. A lot of people look at it as embarrassing to go through another person’s trash, like it’s demeaning on the ego. But I and others do this knowing that every trash bag has a treasure in it and there’s going to be something that someone is going to need or want. That’s the way I look at it. I’ll carry around a bag of useless items to me but I know when I open that bag someone’s going to see something and say, “Oh, I need that!” And I’ll ask them what they got that I need.
There are kids out here, not even street kids, just kids that have problems at their houses or they’re just poor, they can use these things that are just going to waste. I mean there are places out here that help these kids but they don’t help them all. They can’t help them all. I don’t understand why people are throwing away things that can be used, especially when they’re new and still in the box."
Ghost and Purple