Finding a permanent home is a moving target for many
By Ann McCreary
Rickey Christian cradled his dog, a small Chihuahua, in his arms and smiled as he stood outside his new home in the Cedarwood Apartments in Winthrop earlier this month.
“I love it. I love it. One hundred percent. I’m fine right here,” Christian said.
Christian moved into the apartment a couple of months ago, just as the weather started getting cold. He spent the previous several months homeless, sleeping in his truck or a tent at campsites around the valley.
He feels lucky. After being on a waiting list since spring for a rent-subsidized apartment, a unit opened. Christian, who just turned 59, lives on Social Security disability payments, which he receives due to depression. He receives $661 per month, and pays $108 in rent for his new apartment.
He was living with his sister and her husband in Twisp when a fire destroyed their mobile home last spring. “When her house burned down, it made me homeless,” Christian said.
He tried living in a homeless shelter in Omak, the Shove House, for a while, but missed the Methow Valley, so he came back. “My family is here,” he said.
He was told that Room One, a nonprofit social services provider in Twisp, might be able to help him, and went there. The client advocates at Room One helped him apply for housing in a subsidized apartment, and he was put on the waiting list.
His sister eventually found a small place to rent, but was unable to take Christian in. “She bought me a truck. She knew if worse came to worse I could sleep in it. Worse came to worse, and I ended up sleeping in it,” he said.
He moved around from campsite to campsite, “from Black Pine to Beaver Creek and all the way up the Chewuch, to sleep where I could for free,” Christian said. He had a propane camping stove and sleeping bag, and his sister bought him a warm coat. “I loved it at first,” he said.
He stayed for a while at Black Pine Lake, where he had access to bathrooms and running water, and the camp host looked the other way and didn’t require him to pay. But the camp host died and Christian could no longer stay without paying, so he moved on.
Christian is grateful to Room One for helping him eventually make it into an apartment in the Methow Valley that provides subsidized rent. “They did all the paperwork. I’m not real good at paperwork. They also helped me with furniture. People would call them and say they had furniture they didn’t want, and they would call me.”
Standing by his green pickup truck parked in front of the apartment building, Christian said, “This [the truck] was my home for a while.” After settling into his new home, Christian visited an animal shelter and found his new dog, who provides companionship and helps him manage his depression. “I need it for therapy,” he said.
Like Rickey Christian, Kylee and Levi Knox struggled to find rental housing they could afford in the Methow Valley. The couple moved to the valley with their young son three years ago from Nevada to be closer to family. They now have two more children, and have moved four times over the past three years.
“We were finding a lot of seasonal rentals,” Kylee Knox said. “It’s hard to keep moving when you have so many kids. We needed a more stable environment.”
Knox said the family moved into a house last summer and were informed by the landlord in October that he planned to sell the house. With a newborn baby, a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old, the couple was worried about losing their home with winter approaching, and began searching for another rental.
“Finding a house is harder in winter than spring or summer,” Knox said. “Some were just too expensive. We wouldn’t have been able to afford much else if we lived there.”
Levi Knox is a construction worker in summer and does interior remodeling work in winter. “Last winter he stayed pretty busy, but it’s hard to rely on it,” Kylee Knox said. She works part-time as a caregiver at Jamie’s Place, an elder care facility in Winthrop, but is on maternity leave. “It makes it hard” for the family to make ends meet, Knox said.
In the tight rental market in the Methow Valley, the family struggled to find an affordable rental home with enough space for their family. They visited Room One, and “they were super helpful,” Knox said. “It’s not easy to pay the first and last months rent, and damage,” Knox said. “Room One helped us sign up for a program that helps with the damage deposit.”
Client advocates at Room One helped them find a home in Twisp with a $700 monthly rent and three bedrooms. With the $700 damage deposit covered, the family was able to pay the costs of moving into their new home earlier this month.
They were also able to negotiate a reduced rent because Levi has agreed to use his construction skills to do some remodeling on the house. “There’s a lot of fixing up that needs to be done, but Levi is working on that, so we wouldn’t have to pay as much. It’s really helpful,” Kylee said.