Not too long ago, Kim Garcia was getting by. She worked as a live-in caretaker to an elderly woman whose blood disorder required constant care. Kim’s charge passed away shortly after her 86th birthday, leaving Kim in the lurch for housing. That led her to the Bitter Lake encampment, which didn’t last long.
She accidentally witnessed the now-disgraced Anything Helps director, Mark Mathias, who had been contracted by Seattle Public Schools to do outreach at the camp, engaging in what she described as a “wrongful doing.” Kim said that he immediately expelled her, threatening to call the cops if she didn’t leave that day.
That landed her in the sprawling camp at Woodland Park, where she has lived for seven months. She lives in a large, segmented tent — it even has a vestibule — draped in layers of tarps and surrounded by flowerpots. She hasn’t been swept during her time being unhoused, but she worries about it all the time.
“It’s scary,” Kim said, bending down to give out treats to her and her partner Alan’s three small dogs. When she arrived, other campers were talking about social workers coming by to offer housing.
“I met one person and they said they’d be here,” she remembered. “They ended up never showing again.”
If she could get in touch with a social worker, would she be open to getting housed?
“Obviously!” she said. She estimated that only two of the approximately 80 campers in the park wouldn’t prefer to be housed. But she also said that the type of housing matters. For one, allowing dogs and partners is non-negotiable.
“I would stay homeless if my kids — my dogs — can’t go with me. They’re my four-legged caretakers. Rascal, my black one, she is my emotional support. I have severe PTSD. When I get really agitated she’ll come up and, y’know, help me out,” Kim said.
Another one, Kiki, runs for help when Kim’s spinal stenosis sends her to the ground.
Tiny homes, an increasingly popular form of “transitional” housing, also won’t work for her.
“I have a mental condition; I am severely claustrophobic, like really bad. I can’t even close the door at a doctor’s appointment because I’ll pass out,” she said.
She recently visited a friend from the Woodland camp who had relocated to one of the Low Income Housing Institute’s (LIHI) tiny home villages and couldn’t stay for even five minutes. Her tent is pretty spacious, she says, and she spends most of her time out and about anyway. That’s the other issue she has with the LIHI villages: freedom of movement.
“A lot of people don’t like being locked in,” she points out, alleging that tiny house villages have curfews, after which they lock the compound’s main gate, and that they also don’t allow visitors. “We have our freedom here, and they’re asking us to move into a gated, locked location.”
Per Sharon Lee, the executive director of LIHI, no tiny house villages have curfews, and visitors are allowed so long as residents follow COVID guidelines. However, Kim’s misperceptions seemed to be common among the campers at Woodland Park.
Regardless, to get housed, Kim said, she really just needs to go straight to an apartment.
“I understand that’s really … blunt, I guess. Because other people take steps and stuff like that,” Kim said.
She would love to stay in Seattle. “I’ve lived in the country, so I’ve never had the city experience,” she said. “But the cost is just horrendous.”
Given that she can’t walk very far, and that her van — which sports a taped-up window but “gets her from point A to point B” — is currently blocked in due to the city closing the park’s vehicle access gates, working to get the money is probably out of the question. That leaves vouchers and other forms of public assistance. Or, as she puts it, “All that paperwork.”
Read more of the Mar. 23-29, 2022 issue.