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Sunday, June 27, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur / Times staff columnist

In the still of life off the streets

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The first one in was a man named Jonathan. He was assigned a corner unit on the fifth floor with big windows and a donated Macintosh, on which he spends his days writing.

You won't hear anything from his room, Linda Hollett tells me as we walk the halls of the St. Charles Hotel in downtown Seattle. That's the strange thing. I don't hear anything.

It's hard to believe that this is housing for the homeless, owned and managed by the Plymouth Housing Group, with an eye to lives of purpose and sobriety.

"It's kind of a settling-in period for all of us," said Hollett, a Plymouth program manager.

Eleven people — 10 men and one woman — have moved in since the hotel opened June 6. There are rooms for 50 more, but move-ins have been slow. Those who work with the homeless know not to harbor expectations.

For the 11 new residents, these are days of shock and adjustment.

By gaining a home, they have lost their day job: finding a place to stay at night.

So the quiet here speaks of many things: Sleep. Fear. Or the temporary absence of residents who are out gathering their scattered belongings from storage and stash spots.

Some are seeing doctors or relatives after years of neglect.

"They've got a phone now," Hollett said. "People can call them back."

Hollett has worked with Plymouth for four years, and recognizes the patterns in play.

Residents jarred by the quiet often throw their windows open to bathe in street noise. Some aren't used to the warmth. Others find it hard to lie on a soft mattress after years of concrete vestibules and wooden benches — and so they sleep on the floor.

Down in the basement, Hollett, too, is setting up shop. She will meet with residents to help set goals, be that work, rehabilitation or education.

"These are things they could only dream of without a home base," Hollett said.

And she is trying to build a community by arranging potlucks for the new neighbors.

I've been introducing myself to the residents of the St. Charles, trying to find someone to follow from their street life to their new life. So far, no takers. People feel exposed at such a vulnerable time.

And what if they fail?

This is clear when I meet Kevin and his dog, Smitty, on my way out.

Kevin gives me one last name, his stepfather's, and then another, his father's, and then says not to print either. His family lives in the region and doesn't know that he is "in this situation."

He looks at my notebook as if it were a loaded gun.

Kevin had been sleeping in a park near KeyArena "and then I got tired of trees falling on me." He stayed with friends in Federal Way, but they were crackheads and he left.

So he's happy to be at the St. Charles, where "they offer you a lot of help" and where, for once, he can sleep in quiet and wake up with expectation.

Reach Nicole Brodeur at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com. She hopes to give Kevin a voice.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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