UW Sleep and Homelessness Project

Searching for a Home Bass

by Ray Sanchez & Kaitlyn McGlothlen

Infographics by Lais Conceicao

“Do you mind if we take the elevator?” said Hinge, as he adjusted his headset microphone and unruly jet black wig, like a rockstar from an 80’s hair metal band. “My back pain makes it hard for me to walk down stairs.”

Hinge is a 24-year old man currently experiencing homelessness, and recently participated in our first pilot study of sleep quality and circadian rhythms in homeless populations. While Hinge spends most nights at a homeless shelter near the University of Washington, he often seeks cover from rainy Seattle days in or around buildings on campus, where we had a chance to meet and ask him about his daily routine.

“On a typical day, I get up at around 7 am and have about an hour to leave the shelter,” he said. “After that, it’s just trying to find a place to be inside and out of the elements.” Some days, he is able to attend a local arts center that provides space for him to play bass with his band, something he’s been passionate about since he was 8 years old.

Like many Seattleites, Hinge is a transplant to the Emerald City. Originally from Dallas, Texas, he spent time in California, New Mexico, Missouri and Wisconsin before finding himself in Washington State.

“I moved around to a lot of different family members,” he said. “Long story short, my upbringing was hell on earth. My grandfather abused me in every way imaginable until he died, and the rest of my family eventually disowned me because of who I am.”

After years of bouncing between family members, Hinge met his now-fiance and moved to Wisconsin to be with him. A struggle with roommates eventually forced them to relocate, and they decided to move to Washington to be closer to friends. At first, they struggled to find affordable housing, resorting to camping in the woods near Ellensburg or couch-surfing around downtown Seattle. They wound up spending time at the shelter where he stays now, before finally securing housing.

“We had a place for about 6 months,” he said. “Then, our roommate took all the money and ran. I wound up back at the shelter, which brings us to now.”

When asked about things he struggles with as a person experiencing homelessness, Hinge cites classism as a major barrier.

“People look down their noses at other people below them on the financial scale,” he said. “One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that we’re all either addicted to something or lazy, when really 90% of us fell victim to the system, so to speak.”

This graph is called an actogram, and provides a sleep record for our participants during the study. Each row represents a day of the week, the black bars indicate periods of activity, and the light blue regions indicate periods of sleep.

When asked about how he thinks being homeless has affected his sleep quality, Hinge said that noise and other environmental factors in crowded shelters have made it difficult for him to fall and stay asleep. Often, fights will break out inside or near the shelter, and he often serves as a mediator.

“When people get tired, they get cranky,” he said. “A feather falling on their head could set them off.”

He emphasized that higher quality mats or air mattresses in shelters would help him and other shelter guests sleep better. “Plus,” he said, “it doesn’t help that my fiance has sleep apnea and snores like a wildebeest.”

While Hinge is able to spend most nights at the shelter, he occasionally finds himself sleeping on the streets. On these nights, things can get desperate.

“I hate saying this because I’ve had suicidal friends and I’m the kind of guy who would beat somebody down for just being an attention seeker, but if push comes to shove I’ll feign suicidal thoughts in order to spend the night at the hospital,” he said. “I hate doing it, but that way I can get a referral to another shelter.”

In addition to being homeless, Hinge says he suffers from chronic back pain, ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, depression, and body integrity identity disorder, a complex condition in which a person’s mental image of their body is misaligned with physical reality. He said that all of these conditions are made more complicated without permanent housing and quality sleep.

“I manage to repress it and put on a facade,” he said. “My mind likes to give me this false sense of positivity. I don’t want to say I’m happy, but I’m getting better at faking it, I guess you could say. I’ve always had this ‘look on the bright side’ mindset.”

For now, Hinge is focused on taking steps towards securing housing. Once he does, he wants to start recording and sharing his music online.

“I’m hoping we can start playing more shows, and I hope we can start getting paid for our shows,” he said. “I love slappin’ the crap out of a bass.”