Over the Edge

Shelly Koyen

It Takes a Village

As March approached, my teenage daughter and I grew giddy at the prospect of having a place to live that didn’t involve mice, leaky roofs, freezing pipes and the constant shuffle of use required by a small circuit panel to provide heat, hot water and lights.
Yes, we had a roof over our heads, living in a camper on a friend’s property on the Key Peninsula, and we were thankful for that. But now we actually have four walls, a kitchen and a bath with a large tub. It’s funny the little things you take for granted, like how much you can miss your own mattress or your favorite teapot. Things like the luxury of taking a nice, warm bath or turning the heat on. It makes you realize what’s important. Living on disability, if you are fortunate enough to get it after becoming sick or disabled, as I have been, leaves you with very little to live on. After I lost my job and house, my daughter and I spent seven months in that camper. I searched for months to find a place to live that was within the means of my new income. A studio for $725 out of a monthly allowance of $980 leaves little even to the creative mind. But since I paid taxes last year, I was due a refund. That and an emergency grant from DSHS was enough to get us into a studio in Tacoma. President Trump has recently proposed a federal budget that cuts programs that help with housing, food and utility payments for the poor, disabled and elderly. House Speaker Paul Ryan is proposing a bill that will also repeal “Obamacare.” If his American Affordable Health Care Act becomes law, Governor Inslee said that over 700, 000 people will lose health care coverage in Washington. President Trump has additionally sworn that he will stop all federal dollars flowing to sanctuary cities that seek to protect their undocumented residents. On the Key Peninsula, churches are the primary source for utility, rent and food for people like me. Peninsula Light runs an assistance program for utilities from November to March. Fish food bank relies on donations and volunteer work. Jud Morris, executive director of the Children’s Home Society and Family Resource Center on the KP, said, “We will continue to serve whomever shows up at our door.” But what can the rest of us do? I have fallen back on that new old saying: It takes a village. It takes everyone contributing in some way to make a community strong. Just going after what we want individually damages the bigger picture. Finding the median between our liberal and conservative differences and doing what’s right for all should be the goal in mind. I can no longer live in the Gig Harbor community where I grew up. Local resources, nonprofits and federal funding have helped me in a time of need. If that is taken away, what will happen to those who need assistance with utilities, food and health care? It is easy to judge those who are less fortunate, but if you give people hope and dignity, you build a better community. Volunteer at your local church, food bank or school. Call your legislators and voice your concerns. Your county council wants your input. Donate to local charities that support medical care, housing and recovery programs for those needing a doctor, a leg up or a fresh start. Attend town meetings that bring the community together. Care for the elderly; that will be you one day. I have a special place in my heart for those less fortunate, now that I live among them. It begs me to get well again so that I can make better use of my talents and the income they will bring. For now, I do what I can to get by and I am happy to be where I am.
Shelly Koyen became homeless after an extended illness and stayed on a friend’s KP property until she could find an apartment. She and her daughter now live in Tacoma.