Earlier this year, the City of Seattle rolled out the Pathways Home plan that is to serve as a roadmap for our region’s response to its “homeless state of emergency.”
The City and funding coordinator, All Home, enlisted consultants to help draft a new plan for how our community can better meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Pathways Home calls for prioritizing Rapid Rehousing, which pays for move-in costs and a few months’ rent for families experiencing homelessness.
Rapid Rehousing has been successful in other cities, but in Seattle’s housing market, it is often difficult to pay our high rents after the assistance stops. The following is a firsthand account of a single mom’s experience with Rapid Rehousing through Seattle’s homeless assistance services.
In 2014 when I first called Family Housing Connection, I was scared, alone, and in need of emergency housing services for me and my seven-year-old son.
I had just moved up to Seattle from California fleeing a domestic violence situation with my son’s father and knew little about the local resources. I came out here to live with my dad, but growing up in a domestic violence environment as a child that my father created in our home, it made it hard to connect with my father and for us to have a healthy relationship. Staying in his home was very uncomfortable and it eventually got so bad, I decided to leave and slept in our car with my son until there was an opening at a shelter.
When I called Family Housing Connection, I was told it would take two-to-three months for me to possibly get into a shelter or transitional housing, and my immediate need for shelter could not be met. I was placed on a waiting list and told to wait for a phone call. I was so anxious to be away from my phone and miss that call — can you imagine what it’s like to sit and wait for answers while you and your child are sleeping in your car?
I was in the WorkFirst employment program and found employment as a janitor at an auto shop, which helped me qualify for a Rapid Rehousing Program.
I was told I had 30 days to find an apartment that was less than $1,100/month. Within those 30 days, I found it was extremely hard to find a landlord that would rent to me because of my felony conviction from over a decade ago, low credit score, and no rental history. I was told if I didn’t find an apartment in 30 days, I would lose my voucher.
I finally found a landlord that was willing to work with me, but it was far from my work. I had to commute for four hours every day by bus with my then five-year-old son. The stress was really hard on my son; he used to love going to school, but he was so tired from the commute and lack of sleep, he started to have behavior problems at school. I felt so guilty for putting him through so much instability, but I was trying the best I could to navigate the system.
Not addressing underlying issues
Using Rapid Rehousing, I didn’t receive any therapy or help for the underlying issues that led to me being homeless. I have a lot of childhood trauma and have been through a lot of hardships (financially, emotionally, psychologically, etc.), but I didn’t receive any healthy tools like therapy or life skills, so I fell right back into the same toxic cycle. I got into an abusive relationship with another partner, and he moved in with me. I was suffering from depression, making it hard for me to keep up with what I had to do. Before the relationship, I was motivated, working, and on the right track, but all the toxicity in the relationship really took a toll on my self-esteem.
That stress combined with all the pain I’ve been through in my life compounded and really got me down. I was working as a home care worker, and around that time my patient passed away, so I lost my job. My mother passed away unexpectedly around then too … it was a lot of stress all at once. My year of Rapid Rehousing was coming to an end, and my world was crumbling around me.
When the year of Rapid Rehousing was up, I tried to renew my lease but was denied due to noise complaints and police calls from the domestic violence. My Rapid Rehousing advocate told me to call 2-1-1 and start the whole process over. We were put on another wait list and were back homeless, sleeping in my car.
Back to square one
Rapid Rehousing didn’t work for me because there’s all these unforeseen circumstances that can happen to bring you back down. I feel like all my hard work was washed away, and Rapid Rehousing worked for a few months, but in the end made things worse. I was back to square one.
The main priority of Family Housing Connection is to get people housed, but they need to deal with the issues of why people are homeless, rather than just give them a temporary solution. You’re dealing with people that have a lot of barriers, and if you don’t deal with the barriers, you’re going to have people that will be back homeless in a few months.
Lots of people need supportive housing with therapy, job training, education … something that is sustainable. Something to better ourselves. You’re not going to make it out here on a $12/hour job, even a $15/hour job, it’s impossible. There really are so many moms out here that want to move ahead in life, but we have to choose between working at a dead-end job or going to school to better our situation, but then we have no money to support our kids. It’s a lose-lose.
I don’t want my son to be a statistic like me or my mom. Domestic violence, in the system, relying on TANF … I grew up in those circumstances, became those circumstances, and don’t want my son to be in them when he’s grown. My son’s asked me, “Mommy, why are we homeless? When are we going to get a house?” Some days I just cry and cry over that.
I’ve been in the system since I was young: foster homes, juvenile hall, and incarceration as an adult. It’s made it very hard for me to function outside of a structured environment. Now, I do better when I have assistance and support. When I’m out there on my own, I do good at first, but then I just fall off. I’ve been institutionalized my whole life.
I don’t want my son to be institutionalized. I don’t want him to be in the system but fall through the cracks of it. I don’t want him to grow up in shelters, I want him to go to school and have more opportunities.
For a woman to have to wait months with her child to get a roof over their head – even a shelter roof – it’s crazy. In a rich place like Seattle, kids shouldn’t have to wait to get emergency housing. It’s ridiculous. There’s abandoned buildings, a bunch of fancy condos, I don’t understand why we have to wait so long to get emergency shelter.
If you’re reading this and wondering what you could do to help, just talk to people about it. Educate people about the realities of family homelessness and reach out to people to help fundraise for solutions. We need to come together as a community and solve the housing crisis — there’s too many babies out here on the street to not.
Now tell me: Can Rapid Rehousing address all the hardships I’ve been through? Can it fix the years of underlying pain that caused me to fall into the cycle of homelessness? If it can, I’m all for it. But I have a feeling we could do better.