WAITING A LIFETIME FOR A HOME
into The Landing, the low-income apartments opened by the Anacortes Family Center this summer. When you hear his story you‘ll understand that the sparkling studio Rickey cherishes is the safest, most peaceful place he has ever lived.
A Turbulent Youth
Born in North Dakota, Rickey bounced between that state and Washington as a kid, with the majority of his youth spent in North Dakota. There, he was both a witness to and victim of domestic violence. He was offered alcohol as a very young boy and was not required to go to school. In short, he lacked not only role models, but the understanding of how to navigate and thrive in society. He did not graduate from high school (though he earned his GED years later).
Rickey came to Washington to work in his stepfather’s fence company in Skagit County when he was a young man. It was then, Rickey remembers, “I had everything.” Though he didn’t earn a high salary, he was a good worker and his stepdad relied on him. Rickey had his own place and a car, and he could take care of everything he needed. Unfortunately, due to sloppy business practices the IRS seized the fence company, and Rickey was suddenly without employment.
The Concrete/Hamilton area was where Rickey headed next. He did odd jobs there for a few years--sometimes having a place to live and sometimes having to rough it. He decided to come to Anacortes and did yard work for an older woman in trade for a basement home. That arrangement lasted a while, then she moved away. Finally, Rickey was officially living homeless.
By this time, medical issues had taken a toll on his body. Rickey had two conditions the complicated his life: diabetes and heart trouble. He was in his late 40’s, in ill health, and unable to work, on top of being unsheltered.
It's a Full-Time Job
Nevertheless, Rickey tried his best to handle the challenges that faced him. “Many think homeless people are lazy,” he says, “but being homeless is a full-time job.” He talks about being on the move constantly, so you are not seen as loitering. Then there’s the planning: where to get your next meal, where you can sleep and not be harassed, how to keep your belongings safe, how to get medical care, and more.
Though he was without a home, Rickey managed amazingly well. He kept himself and his clothes clean. He became adept at finding food, which is possible in Anacortes due to many kind people who live and work here. He arranged for a PO Box—necessary for receiving disability checks he was now getting. He also rented a storage unit for his possessions. He couldn’t afford a place to live, but at $64/month, he could afford that.
Years passed for Rickey and his patched together life. Winters were the worst times. “It doesn’t matter if you are living in -30 weather in North Dakota or +30 here, you’re cold,” he says. Sometimes he paid $65/night for local motel rooms just to get a break. For a time, he was able to sleep under an overhang at a local church. And for one three-month stretch he slept in his storage unit, the manager looking the other way. But mostly he made his bed behind driftwood at one Fidalgo Island beach or another, trying to stay warm and keep his belongings from being stolen.
Rickey came to AFC about 18 months ago, having heard about the possibility of getting a motel voucher. From then on, Nina and Taunya worked with him. Though they did not have housing to offer yet, they helped with food, bus passes, and all-important motel vouchers in winter. And, crucially, they put Rickey on the waiting list for AFCs next low-income housing project that had just broken ground.
Rickey watched The Landing apartments being built for many months. When he learned he would be able to get a studio apartment in the new building, "It was like winning the lottery." To him, it feels like he waited his whole life to have a place to call home, and he declares "I'm the happiest I've ever been."
Thinking back on so many bone chilling nights spent at the beach, Rickey wants to thank "Dustin and everyone with the big hearts at AFC." They helped him keep going while he was homeless, and the low-income housing they raised the funds to build is a game-changer for this Anacortes resident. "They saved my life."
Note: Rickey did not go through the entire Anacortes Family Center program that begins with emergency shelter, case management, classes, counseling, and other services. Nevertheless, he is part of the extended AFC family as he’s a tenant in one of our low-income housing projects.
Rickey likes nothing more than to sit on his balcony enjoying the view for long stretches of time. After all, that balcony—plus the stable roof over his head that comes with it—has been a long time coming. This quiet gentleman in his early 60's lived a homeless life in Anacortes for about 15 years before he moved