Terry Shelton came in from the cold because he wanted to help his wife, Diana. Shelton got used to living on the streets and didn't see much point in coming inside. Outside, he told me the other day, all you have to worry about is getting food and staying warm.
Terry Shelton came in from the cold because he wanted to help his wife, Diana.
Shelton got used to living on the streets and didn’t see much point in coming inside. Outside, he told me the other day, all you have to worry about is getting food and staying warm.
I suppose we all have scripts that explain our lives and choices neatly, but the truth is never as simple as our stories.
I met the Sheltons at Gossett Place, the Low Income Housing Institute’s (LIHI) new development in the University District that opened in August.
The Sheltons moved in right away, and I was expecting them to tell me being there was a dream come true. It is for most of the people living there, and the Sheltons had nothing but good things to say about the roof over their heads and the staff at Gossett.
But they are, or were, part of that portion of homeless people who are hardest to get off the street.
Sharon Lee, founding executive director of LIHI, said veterans like Shelton have been taught to be self-reliant and are often less likely than others to seek help.
She knows the territory well. LIHI has developed nearly 4,000 housing units in the state and also advocates for people who are homeless. She invited me to see its newest building and speak with some of its residents.
Terry Shelton is outgoing and talkative. He said he and Diana came to Seattle in 1995 and staked out a section of The Ave between Northeast 42nd and Northeast 43rd streets and made it their home.
“We would sit on the sidewalk, and we knew every cop,” he said. They slept in storefronts, comforted by Wild Irish Rose.
He said business owners eventually offered food and other help. “The Neptune used to let us in to watch movies and eat buttered popcorn,” Shelton said.
He made it sound idyllic.
As for people who hold down a job and live inside, well, “what’s normal anyway?” he asks.
He said he liked the streets. Diana said, yes, “It’s good being homeless, but it’s not good for your health.”
She nearly died when her liver went bad. He has a bad hand injured in a work accident and a bad leg. His right knee was destroyed in Vietnam. And he has gallstones.
Once they both had homes and very different lives. Terry is a father of three and a grandfather. Diana has a daughter.
But their behavior cost them their spouses and children.
Terry, who is 56, came back from Vietnam and worked as a machinist in an engine factory in Arizona.
He used drugs, made meth and met Diana, who is 52. “He was my meth cook,” she said.
They moved west together to California, then up the coast, mostly walking and living outdoors, and eventually stopped in Seattle.
For one three-year stretch they had Section 8 housing in Bellevue, but they couldn’t handle the rules.
At Gossett, they have counseling (LIHI partners with Sound Mental Health) and other support, so there’s a greater chance this will work out.
Gossett isn’t transition or temporary housing; it’s meant to be a permanent home for residents, who pay 30 percent of their income in rent.
One of the LIHI managers said that, early on, the Sheltons would leave their apartment to spend a night on the street about once a week. Some residents at first sleep on the floor because they’re not used to a bed, but they adapt. The Sheltons no longer need to sleep elsewhere.
Diana said they might even get around to putting a picture on the wall.
Their story isn’t universal, but whose is?
During my visit, I also met Robert Tatum, who came to Seattle with his wife, Tameka, from Washington, D.C., They lost their home after he became too ill to work. They decided to move; he has family here.
He’s better, and now they both work. He’s also going to school at night, planning to become a chef.
Each tenant has a different set of circumstances, but they all need shelter and support, even, or maybe especially, when they think otherwise.
What Terry knew is that Diana needed to be off the street, and he is devoted to her.
“I’m OK,” Diana said, “As long as I have someone who loves me. I think I can make it.”
They both have a better shot at making it now.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.