When asked how long she’s lived at Plymouth, Latricia says this Christmas will be her fourth.
Portrait photography by Adam Doody
“I enjoy buying Christmas gifts. I listen to people all year long. They’ll say, ‘I need a broom,’ and I think, ‘Santa Claus will get you that!’ That’s how I make my Christmas list; it’s all year long listening to people and seeing what they need.”
Latricia is a petite 50-year-old woman with twinkling eyes, a sweet laugh, a soft voice and incredible strength. At age 25, she was a nursing student living with her mother. When Latricia started hearing voices, her mother did her best to help. But she didn’t realize her daughter suffered from schizophrenia. As the illness worsened, normal life became impossible. Her mother, Latricia’s sole source of emotional support, moved out of state. Latricia was left behind.
Tormented relentlessly by her schizophrenia, a roller coaster of medications and abusive neighbors, Latricia says, “I was devastated. Mama was my support system, and my sister took her away. Nobody wanted me. I was all by myself. I was picked on. I was sick. All the doctor did was up the medicine. More and more pills. I was a zombie. I finally decided, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”
The next twenty years consisted of one institution and shelter after another. In between, there was life on the street. Latricia was seriously ill, utterly alone and tremendously vulnerable.
Finally, with the help of a case manager, Latricia was connected with Plymouth. When she was offered a small unit at Plymouth’s Pacific Apartments, she was eager to accept. Today, she happily praises her apartment, the psychiatrists who worked to find the right medications, and, especially, the nurturing community at Plymouth.
“We have social activities: potlucks, bingo, movie night, barbeques. At Christmas we take a cruise around Lake Washington to see the lights, Plymouth Congregational Church makes dinner, we play games, and there’s singing—lots of singing. Just like a regular Christmas.”
“The social activities are my favorite. That support helped me get stable. The psychiatrist says those who have a good support system do better at staying out of the hospital than those who don’t, and I’ve been out of the hospital five years now. I’m proud of that.”
When asked what she would like to tell Plymouth’s supporters, Latricia’s reply is quick. “Thank you for my mental health. Because really, when I was sick, it was just terrible. And I was sick most of the time in the shelters. Plymouth gave me a second chance at life.”
“Anthony is gratitude to the nth degree and to the end.”
Portrait photography by Adam Doody
That’s not by accident. When Anthony talks about the gratitude he feels for Plymouth, he uses the word “peace” a lot. It’s something he prizes, and his apartment reflects the fact that he finally found it at Plymouth.
When we interviewed Anthony in 2009, he was a new Plymouth tenant with a powerful story. He had lost his job and apartment in 1987. His efforts to regain his footing were swamped by mental health challenges, diabetes, and chemical dependency. When his search for food, shelter and respite from trauma occasionally grew desperate, so did his behavior. Anthony managed to survive on the streets, but he never grew accustomed to living there.
After more than twenty years of homelessness, Anthony moved into Plymouth’s Gatewood Apartments in 2008. He was immensely grateful for his small apartment with a shared bathroom and shower. He has nothing but praise for the Gatewood’s intensive services, which was he says were essential.
“Plymouth took a chance on me. But from then on, it was up to me to make the right decisions.” Over the next four years, Anthony threw himself into the work of redefining his life. He paid his rent on time, served as a good neighbor to the Gatewood community and was an active and committed participant in Plymouth’s support programs. The quote at the top of this story– from his Gatewood building manager– attests to that.
As a result, Plymouth invited Anthony to be part of its Housing Options Program (HOP). For residents like Anthony who have demonstrated sustained success in supportive housing, HOP provides a perfect next step. HOP participants live more independently and require less-intensive services.
Anthony will never forget moving into Plymouth’s David Colwell Apartments in April 2012. When he saw that his studio unit had its own bathroom, he stopped in his tracks. “I slept there that night. Right there on the bathroom floor. I was just so happy.”
Justifiably proud of staying clean and sober since 2007, Anthony credits Plymouth with giving him the solid foundation he needed to turn things around. “I have good friends now. Peace and quiet. And no drama. I still go to my AA meetings and I speak to people at Harborview and my church. I know what they’re going through—I’ve been there and I’m grateful I can give back.”
Anthony points to a picture of a radiantly beautiful woman smiling down from a focal point on his wall. “That’s my sister. Her son was two when I lost contact with them; he’s 31 now. I’m so lucky to have my family back. My mother died three years ago, but in her last days, she told me how glad she was that I became who I am now.”
“Plymouth is triple #1 to me.”
When Carol Ann Hiller was in her 30s, the last word you’d have associated with her was “homeless.”
The West Seattle native was a busy mom, working for city agencies, and raising two girls and a boy. After 17 years of marriage, she weathered a divorce and ended up in a relationship with an older man who was also her business partner in a pottery store. When Carol Ann was in her early 50s, her partner died, leaving her a very comfortable inheritance.
But that’s when mental health problems emerged. In just a few short years, she recklessly spent everything she had. “I just threw money around,” she says, shaking her head at the memories. Eventually, even her children gave up on trying to reason with her.
By 2007 Carol Ann was reduced to living in her car, often in a parking lot in a Burien shopping center. She went weeks without a shower, managing to keep clean with water and paper towels. “I just remember it being so cold,” she says.
She tried living in a homeless shelter but found the people there, many of them using drugs and alcohol, “too frightening.”
After four months of living in her car, Carol Ann’s health deteriorated badly. She had asthma, bronchitis, and diabetes, as well as a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. After several trips to Harborview Hospital, she was referred to the mental health ward. From there, she was discharged to the House of Healing, a short-term facility that helps homeless people emerging from hospitalization find an alternative to living on the street. They helped Carol Ann connect with Plymouth Housing Group, and find a home at Plymouth’s St. Charles Apartments.
“The best thing about the St. Charles was the staff,” Carol Ann says. “They were awesome. They treated me in a way that made me feel valued again.”
With the support of her Plymouth case manager and social worker, Carol Ann followed through with all the medical care and mental health treatment she needed, from cognitive therapy to gym workouts that helped her get her weight under control. She got back on her feet again — so quickly that after two years at the St. Charles, she was ready to “graduate” from Plymouth to subsidized housing.
Carol Ann now lives in an apartment building on Beacon Hill where she can entertain her daughter and her new grandson. “I have my own place now, and I can handle my own money,” she says. “I no longer feel the urge to buy, buy, buy.”
While at the St. Charles, Carol Ann was more than happy to give back to the Plymouth community by serving as a tenant representative on Plymouth’s board of directors. “I learned how people come to live at Plymouth, and how Plymouth does what it does to help them,” she says. “Being on the board, speaking from client’s view, was a big part of my own evolution.”
“Reality shifts. I lose it. Reality shifts, and the terror shows up,” Jerrico Reign Irizarry says with a sigh.
It’s an unusual admission of discouragement for this articulate and upbeat 25-year-old man. But what he calls the “shifting of reality” is why Jerrico wound up homeless at 19. It’s why he needs a safe, consistent place to live.
Jerrico grew up in New York City, attending a competitive public school program affiliated with a prestigious university. He excelled in math, and did an internship with a Manhattan theater company. After high school graduation, he went to work at the theater as a stagehand.
Around this the time, what appeared to be teenage experimentation with drugs and alcohol masked something far more sinister: the beginning of a disabling mental illness.
Jerrico soon lost his job at the theater. His father, who had been living in the Seattle area while Jerrico was growing up in New York, invited Jerrico to come live with him in Washington. Unfortunately, Jerrico’s psychological problems became increasingly severe. He was no longer able to live with his family and had to be hospitalized. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia. There was a period in which he went back and forth between living in the hospital and living in temporary housing.
A caseworker at the hospital approached Plymouth Housing to see if Jerrico could find a permanent home there. Clearly, he needed a place to live in a community that would be supportive while he struggled to manage his mental illness. Plymouth offered him a studio apartment at Plymouth Place, and it’s been his home for nearly five years. He’s filled the sunny studio with posters, artwork, and comfortable furniture for friends who come by to visit.
Jerrico says he’s amazed and grateful at how staff and caseworkers at Plymouth have helped him deal with difficulties ranging from hospitalizations to alcohol abuse. The Plymouth Case Manager worked with him to create a contract that provides structure and addresses his immediate problems. Plymouth also approved his application to have a pet—a sleek, handsome cat named Puro is now his constant companion.
“I don’t have to do it alone,” he says with a big smile. I’m very happy with the home I’ve got here.”
Vivian is smiling, optimistic, and as cheerful as the brightly colored clothing she loves to knit and crochet.
Her sentences often start on one topic and end on another as she enthusiastically chats about her interests. Just about the only time her face clouds over is when she talks about her housing history — moving from apartment to apartment, and spending time in shelters and on the street. Under the strain of those memories, her words just trail off…
For most of Vivian’s adult life, housing has been a problem. Unable to hold a job, she relies on disability payments to get by. Before coming to Plymouth, Vivian was in a transitional housing program in Seattle that provided dinner and overnight shelter but required that clients leave each morning and return in the evening. So Vivian passed her days at a nearby day center for women or at the public library.
She was nearing the end of her allotted time in transitional housing when her case manager connected Vivian with Plymouth. In April 2008, at the age of 62, Vivian got a chance to break her cycle of homelessness. She moved into a sunny third-floor studio apartment at Plymouth with private bath and kitchen, paying 30 percent of her income for rent.
A bookcase in one corner is filled with her mystery novels, Harry Potter DVDs, and do-it-yourself crafts books for her many projects. And a handsome Himalayan cat, Apollo, provides company and entertainment, hopping down occasionally from his cat perch to bat at a cat toy on the floor.
“I love it here,” Vivian says. “I have lived in buildings where I got to know only a few people. Here at Plymouth, I’ve really gotten to know my neighbors.”
Sitting at her kitchen table, she describes social activities that include the building’s Thursday potlucks, monthly community meetings, a knitting group, and shopping trips. Now that she has a kitchen—something she missed while living in shelters—Vivian does her own cooking, planning to make a lasagna for the next potluck event. “I’ll stay here at Plymouth as long as they’ll let me,” she says with a smile.
Cleveland has the good looks of an entertainer, the grace of a dancer, and a way with words.
The kind of way with words that you might associate with a professor or a preacher. But most of his life has been spent in trouble with the law and drugs. “I’ve never had a problem getting things,” he says. “It’s keeping them that’s been tough.”
It all began with a chaotic childhood. Cleveland never knew his father. At various times he lived with his great-grandmother, his grandmother, and his mother. Living with his mother meant being beaten by his alcoholic stepfather. As a teen, Cleveland shuttled between reform school and foster homes. Not surprisingly, Cleveland graduated from juvenile delinquency to adult crime. He found himself in the Virginia State penitentiary in the 1960s, an era when the state still had chain gangs.
“I was out there with chains and a water boy—the whole thing,” he says.
Drugs, alcohol, and prison continued to be the themes of Cleveland’s life for more than four decades. He was living in Seattle with his longtime girlfriend in 2008 when an evening of drinking led to an arrest. “I knew I had to change,” he says.
He told his caseworker he wanted to go into alcohol treatment, and on the day he was released, he went right into a treatment program. When he was done, one of the biggest challenges Cleveland faced was finding a permanent place to live. He dreaded returning to the street, where it was hard to keep clean and out of trouble. “I knew that with a prison record, landlords just won’t take you,” he says.
That’s where Plymouth stepped in. “I just needed a chance,” he recalls. “They gave it to me, and I’m so grateful that they did.”
In June 2010 Cleveland moved into his own home in the Gatewood Apartments. After years of eating fast food, he’s learning to cook nutritious meals to control his diabetes. He keeps a notebook of his activities, and has befriended a stray cat. Every day he attends AA meetings and recently appeared before a King County legislative forum to speak in support of the rehabilitation and treatment programs that are in danger of being cut.