Pen & Eye #10
Thank you to Seattle Mag for the free reprinting of this comic. "Pen & Eye" is published monthly in Seattle Mag.
Where is Kimber Now?
David Stoesz, a local cartoonist and the creator of the well-known Seattle Weekly column “Ask an Uptight Seattleite,” read my
July 5 profile of Kimber and, alongside his collaborator Marie Bouassi, was moved to turn her story into the comic featured here. Bouassi and Stoesz do a recurring comic for Seattle Mag focusing on homelessness in our city.
As someone who spends a lot of their professional life trying to get the stories of homeless people in front of the eyes of housed people, especially when those housed people are rich and powerful, I was thrilled at the idea of Kimber being featured in Seattle Mag.
But while I was thrilled at the idea of changing a few hearts and minds, I also wanted to make sure Stoetz and Bouassi really knew who they were writing about.
To that end, Stoesz and I met up on a sunny Thursday in July and drove up to Interbay for a visit with Kimber, who was at the time living in a tent behind Magnolia Bridge Self Storage. We found Kimber sheltering from the sun with her two dogs inside the tent, which she happily left to chat with us in the shade of one of the building’s alcoves.
Once Stoesz was up to speed on how and why Kimber had been evicted from the nearby tiny house village she’d been living in, the conversation turned casual. We had a few laughs. We played with the dogs. We talked about the weather.
That day, while Kimber was facing a sweep, the three of us parted ways on a distinctly optimistic note. Kimber would figure something out, housing-wise. The sheer injustice of her situation would not possibly be ignored, given the combination of my purple prose and Stoesz and Bouassi’s striking comic. Surely the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) would swoop in and right its wrongs. And after all that was sorted out, the four of us would have a coffee in Pioneer Square to celebrate.
Some of that did come to pass, as shown in this comic. Kimber was swept, but she was offered a space in the Navigation Center by the city’s HOPE team during that sweep. She told us after that the KCRHA had reconnected her with her preferred system navigator, Ivan Hernandez. And we almost made the coffee part happen, too!
Unfortunately, Kimber’s life in the shelter was a chaotic one, from what we could tell. First she had to reschedule.
“I’m sorry it’s such short notice, but I have to cancel because I have to go to DSHS and [do] recertification,” she said in a text sent July 17. “With everything going on, I forgot completely, and now I’m going to get penalized. So, I have to go do it today, to avoid getting docked more EBT than I have already.”
No sweat. You’ve got to eat and all that, although you shouldn’t have to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops to do so.
After that, Kimber kind of went dark.
When I hadn’t heard from her for two weeks, I texted on Aug. 4, asking, “Hey, haven’t heard from you in a bit. Everything still going well up at the nav center?”
Her reply reminded me exactly why people choose to stay in tents rather than entering our decrepit shelter system.
“Who is this?” she asked. “I had my entire purse stolen while I was asleep, and I just replaced my phone today?”
Ugh. “Did that happen at the shelter?” I asked, after identifying myself.
No, she told me, it happened out front, when she had dozed off for five minutes. But she was quick to add that she’d been robbed twice inside the shelter already. The city has moved away from offering congregate shelter — mats on the floor and such — during sweeps, but its “enhanced” shelter still does not offer recipients a room with a door that locks. Instead, they are housed in cubicles and get a small footlocker for their belongings.
I texted her back on Aug. 8, and tried again on Aug. 18 and 21. Since Aug. 4, neither Stoesz nor myself have heard from Kimber. I tried again this week to no avail.
KCRHA communications director Anne Martens said she would try to put me in touch with Hernandez, the system navigator Kimber had been working with, but did not do so by press time.
When we left her tent back in July, I imagined the next story I would write about Kimber would be a happy one. She doesn’t have any substance use disorders, she doesn’t have severe mental health issues and she is eager to get housed and get back to work. Our society, I thought, should have no trouble reintegrating her into the housed population.
What I realized from following Kimber’s saga is that society is not currently set up to do that. If it were, we would not let people like Kimber slip through the cracks so often. She should be the easiest homeless person to house. And yet.
That said, it’s possible that she hasn’t slipped through the cracks. Maybe Stoesz and I just have an out-of-date phone number for her. Or maybe she’s just busy. Those of us with desk jobs think we’re busy, but life on the streets or in the shelter system is truly busy. You don’t have a moment to yourself because, as Kimber could tell you, you’ll get robbed if you so much as blink. You have to run all over the city making appointments just to eat, sleep or shower. You can’t be having social calls with well-meaning journalists.
While this might be a lot of wasted words about someone who is totally fine, what she had to go through to end up in the Navigation Center was completely unacceptable. Heaven and earth have to move to get someone off the streets and into a tiny home village.
As Seattleites know from our collective trauma regarding the Highway 99 tunnel, it takes a lot of taxpayer dollars to move earth in this city, let alone heaven. But once that’s done, why would we ever send someone back to the street? Why would we sweep them, when we can see how alternative options have already failed them?
There’s only one answer, and it’s not pretty: The cruelty is the point.
Kimber, if you’re out there and you read this, we’re here for you and we care about you. Whenever you’ve got time, coffee’s on us.
Read more of the Sept. 13-19, 2023 issue.