It was always Kimber’s dream to move to Seattle, she said, sitting with her two dogs Buddy and Reesie. While Buddy is a new addition to the family — she rescued him nine months ago when he was abandoned on the side of the road — she’s had Reesie for ages. And they’ve been through a lot.
Kimber came to Seattle about seven or eight years ago from North Dakota and went straight into homelessness.
“When I got here, I started out right down there on Third Avenue just like everybody else, at the shelter,” she said.
After navigating the shelter system for a while, Kimber did manage to get into permanent supportive housing (PSH) through the city’s now defunct Navigation Center. She was in Compass Housing Alliance’s Nyer Urness House up in Ballard. But, she said, she hated it.
Kimber doesn’t do drugs, she said, so being surrounded at Nyer Urness by people who were in various states of recovery was difficult. Other residents were suffering from untreated mental illness as well, she said, and she witnessed several deaths during her time there.
“I don’t want to go back there. I left there with — all I had on me was the clothes on my back and my dog,” she said, adding, “I only had one dog at the time.”
After that, she lived unsheltered until the pandemic hit, at which point she participated in the county’s emergency hotel shelter program.
“I started out with REACH back in, I don’t know what year,” Kimber said. “It was three years ago, when they started taking people off the streets and putting them in motels during COVID. I was one of those. And I stayed in a motel system for two years, and still nobody came up with any housing for me.”
However, things were starting to turn around recently. She got off the streets yet again, this time with help from a system navigator with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) named Ivan Hernandez. Hernandez placed her in a hotel in Federal Way temporarily and, when she was evicted because her dog had an accident in the hallway, got her a slot at the Low Income Housing Institute’s (LIHI) Tiny Cabins Safe Harbor Village in Interbay.
“He’s been a great case manager for me. He’s done everything that I’ve asked of him and then some,” Kimber said.
She moved in a week before Christmas, in 2022, and began working with Hernandez on paperwork to get a housing voucher. Her dream, she said, was to find a nice, quiet apartment and get back to work, maybe as a waitress.
Unfortunately, the universe had other plans. Kimber got kicked out of her tiny home on June 15, straight to the street.
In her exit paperwork, LIHI management cited a number of violations of the camp’s code of conduct, alleging Kimber failed to meet with her case manager frequently enough, didn’t keep the area around her unit clean enough and, most seriously, let unauthorized visitors into the camp on multiple occasions.
Those claims were categorically false, Kimber said. She shared pictures of other village residents’ units strewn about with debris and belongings, claiming that the code of conduct was being inequitably enforced. She suggested that difference in application might have been because she and the camp manager didn’t get along very well.
“It’s always the same dumb shit that she’s writing me up for that everybody else in the camp is doing,” Kimber said, “but she decided I’m the only one getting wrote up for it.”
Regarding her meetings with the case managers, Kimber admitted to not making the required two appointments one month, but said she’d gotten back up to two in the month before her exit. LIHI now wants clients to meet with their case managers three or four times every month, she said.
That requirement was nearly impossible, she said, because there were only two case managers for 85 residents at the Interbay village.
“We all live here,” she noted, “and if somebody doesn’t show up for their meeting, they don’t go to their door and ask them, ‘Are you coming to your case manager?’”
Regarding the visitors, she said that the first incident, on April 21, involved a local man named Austin who delivered groceries for residents and that day hopped the fence with her groceries instead of asking for her at the gate. Why he did that she doesn’t know, but she got dinged for it. That same night, another non-resident acquaintance of hers was in the camp to sell a bicycle. After making the sale, he dropped by her unit. They chatted for five minutes, she said, and then he left. That instance led to Kimber signing an agreement acknowledging violations of the code of conduct and promising not to repeat the error.
The third incident, on May 17, involved a former resident and that resident’s boyfriend, who were spotted on security footage leaving Kimber’s unit. They’d been let in by the village’s security guard, Kimber alleges, and absolutely not at her invitation. Once inside the camp, they paid her a very unwelcome visit.
“I talked to them for a few minutes. I said, ‘You guys coming over here all the time, even after I’ve asked you not to come over here, is very disrespectful. You’re putting my housing in jeopardy,’” she said.
She was not wrong. That violation triggered her eviction.
Regarding the second violation of the no-visitors policy, LIHI Executive Director Sharon Lee said, in an emailed response to questions, “They did not ‘barge into her unit’ as she alleged. She let them in and they stayed for awhile. So verification was made by security camera footage. She could have reported this as a security breach or a matter where she was concerned about her safety, but did not.”
With the help of mutual aid volunteers, Kimber filed an appeal to the eviction notice via LIHI’s internal appeals process. However, Kimber received a letter of rejection on June 12.
“Due to safety concerns, as well as repeated non-compliance with shelter policies and procedures, your appeal has been denied,” it read.
On the afternoon of June 15, with the help of friends in the village, she found herself hauling all of her stuff outside, sorting out her delinquent account at the storage facility across the street and figuring out where she was going to sleep that night. For an alternative housing option, LIHI gave her a piece of paper with Operation Nightwatch’s contact information on it. However, besides not wanting to reenter the shelter system, she said there was no way she was going to leave all her stuff on the sidewalk, take a bus to Operation Nightwatch’s offices in Little Saigon, get a shelter referral and then ride another bus to whichever shelter they sent her to.
Additionally, while Kimber knew she had to be out by 3 p.m., she was unaware that the PSH placement she’d been promised wasn’t coming.
After her original system navigator went on paternity leave, Kimber’s case had been handled jointly by KCRHA system navigator Harold Odom and a few others, she said. According to her, it was during this handoff period that the agency suddenly stopped paying for her storage unit, which incidentally is what caused her to receive code of conduct violations for having too much stuff. She was also frustrated with Odom and the other system navigators because, she alleged, they switched up the deal on her, telling her that instead of a voucher she would have to accept PSH.
“Ivan was such a great case manager, and he always made sure that I had my needs met and my dogs’ needs met. He’s probably going to be upset when he finds out,” Kimber said.
Regardless, when she informed KCRHA that she was getting the boot from LIHI, the organization negotiated to get her a 15-day extension, promising to get her into PSH within that window.
Thus, on eviction day, Kimber was expecting someone from KCRHA to show up to help her move. Instead, she got a short visit from Odom.
“Harold came out here today to tell me they didn’t have anything for me,” she said.
While Kimber wasn’t eager to accept PSH because of her negative experience with it, she was even less eager to go back to the street. She also felt a bit blindsided, because no one from KCRHA had communicated with her in the week leading up to her exit date.
“[LIHI’s case manager] mentioned having the truck come and move all my things, but nobody had gotten in touch with me about anything all week, so I knew something bad was going to happen,” Kimber said.
Her appeal letter concludes by saying, “Lastly, following your exit from the Shelter Program, you were given a 15 day grace period to extend your stay due to being approved for a housing opportunity. You later refused the housing opportunity, and refused to work with your outside Case Manager, thus losing the available unit.”
That claim, Kimber said in a June 29 text exchange, was “absolutely 100% false.” She couldn’t have refused the housing plan, she said, as accepting it was the condition on which she was allowed to stay the extra 15 days. And she hadn’t rejected it at any point after. In that same exchange, she said that she hadn’t heard a peep from Odom or anyone else at the KCRHA since June 8, besides when Odom came by to tell her she wasn’t getting housed.
“LIHI case management staff offered the client both permanent and temporary housing options and these were declined. This is in addtion to the housing the KCRHA system navigator offered. Our staff was present when this took place,” Lee said, regarding Kimber’s claim that she never refused housing. Lee added that, during and after the appeal process, Kimber “continued to refuse our offers of housing or assistance.”
KCRHA Communications Director Anne Martens promised to look into the situation but didn’t respond to questions by press time. Lee said that LIHI staff had attempted to stay abreast of Kimber’s situation and that they “tried but were not able to reach the system navigator. She has moved somewhere else.”
For now, Kimber, Buddy and Reesie are living in a borrowed tent not too far away. City workers quickly ran them out of the small rectangle of dirt outside the village’s parking lot where they first made camp, so they found a less visible spot. Her stuff is safe in another storage unit, but she’s on the verge of losing that due to inability to pay.
It wouldn’t be the first time she’s lost it all, Kimber said, but it feels a little extra unfair this time.
“I’m just really frustrated and I’m really disheartened because, first of all, KCRHA has dropped the ball with me. They just have just left me to the wolves,” Kimber said.
Read more of the July 5-11, 2023 issue.