On the ground floor of Santos Place at Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus, Douglas Converse places three red balls on top of three overturned brass cups. With a flourish of his hands and a tap of the wand, the balls vanish suddenly in his palms, one by one, and reappear moments later under first one cup, then another, then another.
Finally he pauses, after all the balls have disappeared, and picks up each cup to reveal … not a red ball, but a small pear, then a tangerine, then another tangerine. Douglas’ former case manager, Nigel, laughs out loud at the sight of the unexpected fruit.
“It never fails,” says Douglas, who worked for years as a performing magician. “It’s a beautiful craft. I mean, how many things can you think of where you can spontaneously sit down with someone – a handful of people – and in a matter of a very short time, have them all smiling? There aren’t many crafts you can say that about.”
Douglas smiles a lot these days, but it hasn’t always been that way. Among the many experiences that have defined his extraordinary life – as an actor, boxer, magician, real estate agent, and even a professional Ronald McDonald – is a period of time when he was living in a homeless shelter in downtown Seattle, unsure what was going to happen to him.
But Douglas has always persevered, starting with the day he decided as a 10-year-old boy to become a magician in the style of the great Slydini against the wishes of his family. He persevered when his theme-park magic show was failing, pulling off a performance that ended with seven curtain calls just as his boss was getting ready to shut it down. And he persevered when insurmountable debts left him homeless and isolated, afraid to tell anyone what he was going through.
Before then, Douglas says he didn’t understand how easy it is to fall into homelessness. Like the sleight of hand behind the magic trick, it can be difficult to see the reality of homelessness behind our own perceptions.
“I always thought that if you’re homeless, you’ve either got mental issues, or you’re a drug addict, or you’re just not trying. And even if that is the case, you still deserve compassion,” he says. “But in reality, it can happen to anyone.”
Douglas says the stigma of homelessness kept him from telling friends about what he was going through, but he managed to seek out help from St. Vincent de Paul and was referred to Solid Ground’s housing at Sand Point. There, he found a new home – one he can stay in as long as he needs – and the support of a case manager available to connect him with resources designed to nurture his success.
“I just couldn’t believe it, because this is the neighborhood I grew up in, and I know what a lovely location it is. It’s absolutely beautiful,” he says. “I’m so committed to taking the resources that have been generously given to me and make sure I tell my story, never give up, and create a new life for myself. If I can inspire just one person to never give up, it would be worth it.”
“It’s the greatest act of kindness and compassion I’ve ever experienced. Solid Ground has given me everything I need. It’s up to me now.” ~Douglas Converse, Santos Place Resident
Douglas is one of around 450 formerly homeless people now living in Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing, where they are supported through case management and other services tailored to their needs.
The campus is nestled into Magnuson Park on Lake Washington, giving residents access to a variety of recreational opportunities as well as programs provided by a host of nonprofits that operate out of the former naval air base there.
Today, Douglas is starting to reconnect with the real estate professionals he once worked with and talks openly, and without shame, about his experiences with homelessness.
He’s become well known for performing magic for pretty much everyone around the Sand Point campus, and he hopes to bring his act back to the stage once the pandemic allows. He even has a property listed on the market – his first since becoming homeless.
All that was made possible because of the support he received through Solid Ground, he says. “It’s the greatest act of kindness and compassion I’ve ever experienced,” he adds. “Solid Ground has given me everything I need. It’s up to me now.”