EVERETT, Wash. Within 60 seconds of pulling into a supermarket parking lot, Tyson Tungate was approached by a man looking for drugs.
“I’m clean and sober, bro,” Tungate said to another man who fell on the sidewalk toward him. “You can do it too,” encouraged one woman as she piled garbage bags and blankets into a shopping cart.
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Tungate’s sister had found him just weeks earlier in the same area, a gathering spot for drug dealers, addicts and the homeless. He weighed 115 pounds, shifted from side to side as she tried to talk to him, and shivered under hooded layers.
“I was a walking skeleton,” Tungate, 33, said. “It was shocking that I was like this and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me.”
Now 60 days sober, he navigates the recovery system in a state where the crises of addiction and homelessness unfold in plain sight.
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Tungate and his half-sister Jacquelin Hernandez grew up apart after her mother left their father.
“My mom’s side of the family is all Christian,” Hernandez told Fox News. “They’re all sober and they all stuck together, no dysfunction. And my dad’s side was the opposite. They were all dysfunctional alcoholics, drug addicts.”
Tungate grew up calling the local bar whenever he needed to talk to his father. He started smoking pot in high school, a habit that soon turned into abuse of OxyContin and then heroin.
“The needle took me,” he recalls, sitting in the living room of a clean and sober house. “I was stubborn and didn’t think I had a problem. I thought I could hide it. And I hid it pretty well for a while until I started getting scars.”
But he didn’t become homeless until his mother kicked out his older brother.
“My brother was stealing money from her, stealing pills from her,” she said. “I didn’t feel good about him not being home. So I went with him.”
A few years later, his mother died of an overdose. Her son spent his 20s bouncing in and out of prison.
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Washington has the nation’s fourth-largest homeless population (25,211), surpassed only by California, New York and Florida, according to 2022 Housing and Urban Development estimates. About half of Washington’s homeless are believed to be that they have no shelter and many – like Tungate – are stuck in a pattern of chronic homelessness.
Tungate said he was good at being a drug addict. He made sure his feet were free of infection and frostbite so he could walk to his next treatment. He brought 12 blankets in his shopping cart so he could give 11 to other people struggling to stay warm on the streets of Washington. And he often made more money in an hour or two than he would have in a 9-to-5 job.
“Washington is very grim. The streets are no joke,” he said. “I have seen things that other people should never see in their lives.”
Tungate estimates he has seen more than 100 overdoses during his years on the streets, including about 20 that were fatal.
Methamphetamine was the most common drug involved in overdose deaths, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. But in 2021, fentanyl exploded onto the scene.
“With this fentanyl today, Narcan, it doesn’t even touch it,” Tungate said. “It’s like useless. Sometimes you have to hit a person three or four times with Narcan.”
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But late last year, Hernandez heard her brother hanging out at a nearby superstore. She has had limited contact with him since the birth of her son about 12 years ago.
“I just didn’t understand why no one was going out there and saying anything to my brother,” he said. “They are our family.”
She went to the store, found her brother and asked him if he wanted to get cleaned up. For his entire adult life, the answer to that question was no. But now, fearing that every high might be his last, he said yes.
“Family has strength,” Tungate said. “I believe my sister was sent by [God] to save me He’s like my guardian angel.”
Hernandez’s neighbor, a recovering addict who was also formerly homeless, put her in touch with a man who helps people get into treatment. Tungate went to rehab and then a 28-day residential treatment program.
He regained 60 pounds, his mental clarity and his smile.
Inspired by the YouTube channel “Tales from the Streets,” Hernandez documented Tungate’s progress from day one. He barely recognizes himself when he looks back at the first video.
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“When I was in my addiction, it seemed like I was angry all the time,” he said. “I have a smile on my face everywhere I go now.”
These days, his dreams extend beyond his next fix. He hopes to get a car and a house, start a family, all the “normal stuff”. He thinks it will be done a counselor and helping others get clean.
“No matter how bad your drug addiction is, you can overcome it,” he said. “If I could do it, I know you can.”