There are a lot of ways to end up homeless.
I became aware of that as a college student, when I became an intern for Real Change News, the paper that homeless people sell in Seattle.
Writing for that paper, which covered Seattle and state politics, local cultural events and a lot of issues to do with homelessness, I met a lot of people who had wound up outdoors for one reason or another.
And shortly after leaving Real Change, I came to work at the Monroe Monitor when the infamous Stickerpatch, a massive Hooverville along the south bank of the Skykomish River across from Sultan, was in full roar.
In addition to that, I am part of an addiction recovery community that includes many people who spent some times on the street.
I remember when a huge hue and cry arose in Kenmore upon the arrival of Tent City 4, one of the Seattle area’s moving organized homeless encampments.
The encampment is run by a Seattle non-profit, and moves every three months. While I was there as a Real Change reporter, I met one couple, both with Down’s Syndrome, who held hands as they walked the “street” through the tents, a construction worker who was out of work, and a woman who was trying to get in while pitifully drunk.
I interviewed a good number of the Stickerpatch residents at onetime or another, and mental illness was rampant. One man had a mother who’d died in a mental health hospital, about half the men, it seemed, were military veterans who couldn’t function in society well any more, a substantial fraction were alcoholic, and several were disabled and surviving on social security.
At Take the Next Step, a resource center in Monroe, I met a formerly homeless woman who lost her home during a catastrophic depression following the loss of her business and several other simultaneous blows.
I’ve known young men who camp out rather than conform, some hampered by criminal records that make finding housing difficult.
There are a fair number who are simply too low-I.Q. to ever have hope of earning much.
A good number of the women I’ve met at the Monroe Gospel Women’s Mission wound up displaced upon the failure of a relationship and the subsequent loss of a rent-paying partner.
Friday night I heard the stories of a couple of those women, recently back on their feet after time spent living in cars or on friend’s couches.
At the annual fundraiser dinner and silent auction for the Monroe Gospel Women’s Mission, a former resident told her story of moving to Monroe from Florida to care for a dying relative, only to find herself out of work and out of a home when he died.
She had been a social worker in Florida, and was reluctant to go to a shelter, having seen some bad ones in her career.
So she wound up staying in her car for quite a while before a friend persuaded her to explore the Monroe shelter.
Today she lives in an apartment with another woman she met at the shelter, and she’s doing well.
Not every homeless person is so lucky, or even so capable.
As Dorothy Stima pointed out during her comments at the fundraiser Friday evening, you can’t help everyone.
But you can help some.
There are two ways to do that right now.
One is to donate to the Monroe Gospel Women’s Mission. It’s a faith-based charity, but you don’t have to be terribly religious to appreciate the service they provide, or to feel a sense of relief at the lives elevated out of desperation there. The mission is just concluding its annual big fundraising drive, and every bit helps. Learn more at monroegospelmission.org.
Another is to pitch in and help finish the six new transitional housing units at Woods Creek Village being built by affordable housing organization Housing Hope.
I volunteered on another Housing Hope project once, nailing studs together in a self-help housing unit for a builder who’d suffered a broken leg and fallen behind.
Once in a while as I’m driving into town on 522 I look at the roof of that house, the only house I’ve ever had anything to do with building, and it’s a pleasant feeling.
Those transitional housing units are what help people like the women at the mission become independent, giving them a place to live while they build careers and save money for places of their own.
As Stima said, “sometimes people fail. But if we do this, we will not have failed them.”