A City out of Touch; Part 2 by Carey Fuller and Reverend Jimmie JamesPosted by in Homelessness
The Journey that ended before he began: The death of a homeless child in the city of Kent (Be advised: the attached picture is graphic and may not be suitable for everyone to view)
The last time I wrote about Kent, I entitled the piece “Out of Touch While Others Run Out of Time” on the Huffington Post. Sadly, time ran out for Journey Legatee. Journey’s family is one of many in Kent that has fallen victim to homelessness that could’ve been prevented had there been resources available when they needed them. Had the city of Kent approved a resource center/shelter years ago when first requested by various local orgs, the Legatee family would’ve had a place to go and baby Journey would’ve had a chance to live but Kent has always been in the habit of not taking their growing homeless population seriously enough to be proactive about it.
Journey was the name that Billy and Zincia, the homeless parents of Journey, felt was appropriate after their baby was declared stillborn by miscarriage by the attending physician at a local hospital in South King County. It has been almost a month since Journey’s tragic death. The particulars surrounding this miscarriage are still being investigated by the family at this time, but the “journey” of homelessness, experienced by this family leading to this tragedy, is the inspiration for his given name. What should have been a time of celebration for this family is now an added burden of grief and loss to the already challenging and overwhelming reality of being a homeless family in the city of Kent, WA.
Billy is telling his story because he believes he will, and must, make it through this period for his wife and family, and he wants others to know the truth about being homeless. They are still currently homeless and he invites you to take his journey experience of homelessness in what we call the continuing story of a “City Out of Touch”. As a returning community member from incarceration, Billy had made up his mind that he was ready to take a different path from his previous life. Being admitted into a successful transition program in Seattle upon his release, he was shortly relocated from Seattle, by the Department of Corrections (DOC) after only a month and a half, to a clean and sober halfway house in the city of Kent. Here is where the problems began to mount for Billy already facing the challenges of reentry transition. WA State DOC pays for three months of housing in which Billy qualified, but the Halfway House approved for him in Kent had activity that was detrimental to his sobriety and safety. Billy had no choice but to request a move to a relative in Kent which he found out had the same activity. In this process he was not able to maintain the rest of his 90 day rent stipend by DOC. Right before his release from prison, his wife had an apartment with his three children and a job. She lost the car and soon after was not able to keep her job for lack of transportation. She was soon evicted just as he was released. With a pregnant wife, and three children, Billy and his family continued to struggle to find safe housing in Kent.
He tried all the listed and available resources only to find there weren’t any resources to help their real time needs. After living in a park for four days he finally flagged down a police officer who was able to get him a one day stay at a motel. He located a minister in Tacoma who came to visit him and paid for a week’s stay in a local hotel. When I found out about Billy, I rallied help from other advocates to assist the family. Billy has enrolled for college and will receive a grant in a few months and will receive food stamps next month, but still has no place to call home right now with his family. He was told by the police,” We can get some help for your family if you are charged with domestic violence.” During this process of homelessness his wife was rushed to the hospital with pain. According to the family, some of the medical procedural activity was questionable and the end result was the loss of their son, Journey.
Billy said in an intake interview, “You know, I could have went with some of my former associates and made some easy money and got us a place to live, but I don’t want to live that life anymore. I have been in and out of institutions since I was young, but now I am going to do it right, so I chose to live in the park than to go back to that life. After a few days I couldn’t take my family through that anymore and stopped a police officer and asked for help”.
This doesn’t sound like a person who chooses to be homeless, as many residents and officials in Kent believe. This doesn’t sound like a homeless person who is just strung out on drugs and alcohol, as many people and officials in Kent have stereotyped the homeless. This isn’t an isolated incident of a person who chose to come to Kent to commit crimes or take advantage of Kent resources, (that do not exist for housing), as many in the Kent business and political community believe. On the contrary, Billy’s story is just one of many in the homeless population that are trying to transition successfully back into the community from incarceration; they end up in Kent, due to gentrification and or collateral consequence, and find the absence of adequate supports and indifference of their needs from the city and community, hence, A City Out of Touch.
This is a city that still sees Kent as the White suburban community it was twenty to thirty years prior and has been unaware of the negative effects of gentrification and poverty. It is unaware that its diversity numbers are mainly due to displaced low income families. This city has a lack of understanding about problems and solutions for homelessness and poverty. Seattle Times staff reporter, Lornet Turnbull, wrote an article saying “New immigrants are bringing diverse culture to the once white, working-class communities, forcing city leaders and longtime residents to at once embrace and grapple with change.” (Turnbull, Seattle Times, February 23, 2011). The change in Kent includes a growing diverse demographic of the homeless population (families, youth, veterans, women).
This city still has people embracing fear about the homeless. As recent as April 6, 2012, the Kent Reporter published a cartoon showing three frames, one of Frankenstein with the word “scary above it; one with a ghost saying “scarier”; and finally one with a homeless person saying “Scariest”. The city of Kent just recently denied a Union Gospel Mission and a local faith community partnership, Kent Hope, access to a viable building to create a homeless day center. The Kent Hope collaboration could have been an option for a Billy’s family and others like Billy, to come and get a breather, take a shower, make some contacts, release some of the daily stress of homelessness, get some hope and some help. Can you imagine being homeless and pregnant? Just within the past few months we have encountered and helped several homeless families in Kent with infants, living outdoors.
As I applaud the Kent Hope faith group for working on a long term solution for a day center, I challenge the faith community as well as the city; because right now, someone is being evicted and need a place to stay- today. Right now, someone is being released from prison and cannot afford go back to their old community and need a place to live-today. Right now, someone is going to work every day, but can’t afford the rent deposit or pass a credit check and needs housing TODAY! And then there are people, like Billy, who has a family with children, homeless, living in Kent wherever they can, children going to school, hiding the fact that they’re homeless and there is no help. Wake up City of Kent! Let us make sure that the death of Journey may begin a life of hope for housing the homeless in Kent.
As of the writing of this post, I was informed by Billy’s wife that she still has uncontrolled bleeding from the loss of her son. When Zincia lost the baby, she almost lost her life that day as well. As of next week, they do not know where they’ll be but they do know that we, the local activists in the area, will do all we can to keep them from having to move back into a local park and risk losing a wife and mother.