In this guest post, Richard shares his personal causes of homelessness. He is currently on the waitlist for housing.
To me, Seattle is home. I wasn’t born here, but I’ve lived here for a long time—since 1983. People back east used to ask me about moving to a place where it constantly rains. But for me, it’s heaven compared to the brutal cold of Niagara Falls, New York, where I was born and raised.
I couldn’t wait to get away from the frigid winters in upstate New York. So when I had an opportunity to work for a trucking company in Seattle in my 20s, I jumped at the chance.
Exactly the type of question United Way’s Streets to Home program answers.
My job as a trucker was good. I liked driving from Seattle to North Dakota—that was my route. I did it for five years and I was good at it. Aside from trucking, I’ve held down other jobs in town, like bartending and working the front desk at Seattle motels.
Cause of homelessness 1: Job loss
I can trace my causes of homelessness back to when I had surgery on my leg a few years ago. The artificial veins the doctor inserted into my leg didn’t take and they became infected. Worse than the excruciating pain the infection caused was the decision my doctors made about my condition: They’d have to amputate my leg. I was devastated. Once doctors took off my leg, I went downhill.
Without my leg, I could never return to my livelihood as a trucker. Even working in a motel or bartending are difficult when you’re in a wheelchair.
Cause of homelessness 2: Medical crisis
But I didn’t become homeless right away. I had a roommate named Tom who not only helped pay the rent, but did so many little things that I couldn’t do for myself.
Tom and I felt we’d hit the jackpot when we were able to rent a small place near downtown Seattle. It wasn’t fancy, but it was ours.
The landlord, an 86-year-old man who owned the property, knew money was tight and offered knock a little off the rent if we helped fix up the place. My roommate did most of the work on account of my disability, but I was able to shampoo the carpets, even with one leg!
Tom and I were all set. The neighbors really liked us. But the landlord died and his son took over. He couldn’t wait to sell the place—he said the land alone was worth $300,000—which meant Tom and I were getting kicked out.
Causes of homelessness 3: Lack of affordable housing
We were both worried about finding another affordable place to live. Tom did not have a spotless credit history. But we had a backup plan. Tom had an old motorhome, so we decided we’d live in it just until we found another place to rent.
United Way is increasing access to affordable housing with 5 Bold Moves to End Homelessness.
While looking for a place we could afford, Tom came down with pneumonia. I didn’t think things could get any worse. I was wrong. Within weeks, Tom died from complications.
My friend and roommate was gone. My home was gone. My job prospects at age 69 with one leg, limited education and no real computer skills? Slim to none.
If I don’t seem very emotional, about everything I’ve been through, it’s because I force myself not to feel pain, isolation, loneliness and despair. I have to hide my emotions in order to survive homelessness.
When Tom died, he left me the motorhome. Sometimes I curse it—the motorhome is tiny—but I know it’s a good thing because 14 months later, I’m still living in it with my 15-year-old cat Jake.
Every day is difficult for me because I have to keep moving the motorhome or I’ll get ticketed $55 by parking enforcement. The problem is I can’t drive the motorhome in my condition. I have to rely on someone else with a license who I trust to move it.
While living in limbo is emotionally and mentally draining, I haven’t given up hope. I recently was approved by Seattle Housing Authority to get into low-income housing. But there’s no room, so I wait.
And I wonder: Can I keep dodging parking enforcement until the wait is over? Will there be more causes of homelessness later in my story?
Being homeless has been incredibly tough, especially at my age and in my condition, but I force myself to stay positive. I’m encouraged that I’m near or at the top of the waitlist to get stable housing soon. And when that happens, I’ll write my final chapter of homelessness. One with a happy ending.
We’re committed to ending homeless for Richard and those like him. Support the program today and you’ll help people experiencing homelessness find affordable housing or secure safe places to recover after medical treatments.