For more than a year, I have been tracking the increasing ordinariness of an extraordinary life. Not long before we met, Paing Win was living...

Share story

For more than a year, I have been tracking the increasing ordinariness of an extraordinary life.

Not long before we met, Paing Win was living in a tent in Renton, damaged by beatings, afraid of the world.

Last July, Win was one of the first of 64 to move into the St. Charles Hotel, a historic building at Seattle’s Third Avenue and Cherry Street renovated by the Plymouth Housing Group. The nonprofit provides low-cost housing and services to the homeless.

Win, a math lecturer in his native Myanmar, let me follow his progress for a year.

Neither of us knew what to expect, but it turned out there was much to chronicle. How Win went from sleeping for days to venturing out, building a routine of meals and TV and Scrabble.

As his health improved, so did his outlook. Soon he was in regular contact with his two daughters in Ballard. The older one, Mary, sees her father’s quiet room as a place to escape the tumult of her teenage life. She has started to spend a few weeknights with her father.

Over a dim-sum lunch, Win told me about his hopes of getting an apartment through the Seattle Housing Authority.

As he did, Linda Hollett, who shepherded Win through his first six months as part of Plymouth’s “Coming Home” program, sat beside him.

The past year at the St. Charles, she said, “has been like having a baby born, seeing it through infancy and watching it walk.”

There has been one death, from liver failure. Three residents moved out: one to live with family and two to work on fishing boats.

“There have been some problems,” Hollett acknowledged, citing drinking, noise and fights. “But we haven’t had to evict anyone.”

All Plymouth’s clients have issues: Addiction. Mental or physical disabilities. But the problems don’t seem as pronounced at the St. Charles, said Paul Lambros, Plymouth’s executive director. “They just seem like a mellower bunch. That it is historic, is very calming.”

And Plymouth’s practice of renovating Seattle’s broken-down buildings and its broken-down residents hasn’t escaped the eye of the Downtown Seattle Association. Last month, Plymouth received a 2005 Downtown Champion Award for its boost to the urban core.

The work will continue: Plymouth on Stewart, with 87 units, will open in March. Another property, at Third and Blanchard, will house 100 homeless seniors, starting in fall 2007.

“But the perfect example,” Lambros said, “has been the St. Charles.”

So, perhaps, has been Win.

At this time last year, Win was so depressed that staffers worried about placing him on the sixth floor.

“Now, I’m thinking big,” he said. “Every week, I play Lotto.” He might even work again. “I will try, because I can survive.”

The fortune cookies come, and Win cracks his open. I read his out loud: “You are surrounded by true friends.”

“That’s right,” he says.

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

She may miss Ronnie the most.