"Homeless on BainbridgeA woman's life spirals out of control, until she finds help."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:34 PM
"No one meeting Marcie in her senior year at North Kitsap High School would have predicted that within a few years she would be homeless on Bainbridge.A cheerleader and an honor student, she lettered in track and was senior class representative to student government. Statuesque at 6 feet tall, blond and blue-eyed, she was beautiful as well as smart.She moved to Bainbridge when she was 18. At 23, she had a baby. Marcie (not her real name) was living in the Rhododendron Apartments on High School Road and supporting herself and her 5-month-old baby as a cocktail waitress, when she became pregnant again. She refused the father's offer of marriage.My mom and my family were still in my life at that point. My dad even came up from Oregon for the baby shower, Marcie said. But, financially I was on my own.Marcie went on welfare. She moved into a larger apartment to accommodate the second child. Then, a house at Fort Ward became available when a friend of Marcie's mother vacated after a divorce. Marcie and the two babies lived in their Fort Ward home until the owner decided, on the spur of the moment, to move back in. Then I was homeless, Marcie said. You think, 'This can't be happening to me.' My kids and I had to go stay with friends. All my stuff was in a storage unit.For six months, I was on every waiting list for every apartment on Bainbridge. Finally, I threw up my hands and got together with a man who could support us, because I didn't want to be homeless ever again. Spiral downArguably, many of Marcie's problems over those years were the result of her own choices. But they also demonstrate how difficult some find it to pull themselves up once life begins to spiral downward - with the fear of homeless driving one to worse circumstance still.And in a community where lower-income residents face increasing economic pressures - where rents are high and apartment vacancy low - it suggests that help is required for those in the most dire need.Marcie stayed with Alex for seven years, although he was physically abusive, kicking her across the room at times. Alex drank and did drugs. Marcie had already acquired both habits, but with Alex, her substance abuse intensified.Marcie had four children with Alex. Each time she got pregnant, they broke up and she moved again. She has moved every year for the past 20 years. And during those years, she has been sporadically homeless.I went to Helpline, Marcie said, but they didn't have programs for homeless people. Even when I go there today, I still sometimes see people living in their cars in the parking lot. Marcie often stayed at a shelter for battered women in Bremerton. Marcie could stay there for up to two weeks, but every day she had to be out of the shelter between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. She would wander Bremerton all day long with her children. I always tried Bainbridge first, Marcie said, but they didn't have any place there for us. Sometimes we lived in my car down at Chief Seattle park.Then I got a home in Suquamish, but the bills were too high. I was homeless again. I let my kids go to my brother in Spokane. I thought it would be better for them. Marcie met another man two days after her children left for Spokane. She lived with Hugh for six years, on and off. They had two children together. Hugh, like Alex, was abusive and a drug addict.I always tried to get into the transitional housing Bainbridge does have, but my credit wasn't good enough, she said. Helpline gave me clothes and offered counseling, but it was more like financial counseling. Not why I was homeless in the first place.Of course my problems were deeper than just finding a house. I really needed long-term counseling. I got lost in the shuffle for 20 years.Joanne Tews, executive director of Helpline House, agrees that underlying problems can make long-term solutions for homelessness more difficult.There's often another subset of problems, Tews said. There can be mental health, substance abuse or parenting issues.We try to look at everybody's situation and the resources available to them. We try to take care of the immediate need. Numerous programs have evolved over the years at the island's social service hub on Knechtel Way.Among the strategies now employed by Helpline staff to assist Bainbridge's homeless are advocating with landlords for tenants threatened by eviction; donating first and last month's rent to secure apartments; referrals to off-island housing; paying for motels for short periods; and transitional housing for those who have been evicted or are otherwise in crisis.RecoveryHelpline came through for Marcie, who has cleaned herself up, but not before more crisis.Hugh and Marcie rented a house in Suquamish, and there Marcie got clean and sober. She was also expecting another baby. Hugh left. Marcie had difficulty keeping up with bills. She relapsed. Then she received a letter from Helpline telling her that Section Eight subsidized housing had opened up. In order to qualify, though, she had to be homeless. So she and the children moved into a motel for four months, before moving again - into a house they still inhabit.Securely settled at last, Marcie got clean and sober, and has stayed so. She received intensive counseling from the Wellness Center in Suquamish. They helped break the cycle of physical abuse, substance abuse and codependency. She credits Alcoholics Anonymous, a local church and a higher power with helping her maintain sobriety. She's also had to negotiate other assistance programs, lining up loans and grants for college, and arranging for child care with a friend.In two weeks, she will begin college. And she is now well into her second year of sobriety.Marcie would like to help others turn their lives around. I would like to volunteer my time, if Bainbridge develops a program for the homeless, she said. "