A woman with her 7-year-old son puts her many worries to rest each night in a van outside the church. A family of five spent six months in their vehicle in the parking lot, and now works to pay back the church’s generosity.

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Babette Van Hook

Several times a week, Babette Van Hook, single mother and Seahawks fan, drives from her job as a caregiver in Mill Creek to Everett, where her 7-year-old son takes martial-arts classes. Even though they live in a van and park at night in a church parking lot, she wants his life to have “something normal.”

Van Hook was sharing a two-bedroom apartment with another single mom, she said, when the friend stopped paying rent. They were evicted in June. With that on her credit rating, she says she now can’t qualify for some subsidized housing programs.

She works 27 hours a week, earning $12 an hour. Her take-home pay is about $1,200 a month. She pays $524 a month for the loan on the van. She pays an additional $485 a month for storage units where they put all their belongings when they lost their place to live.

She’s tried to make the van as comfortable as possible with foam pads and Pillow Pals, big stuffed animal and superhero pillows. They wake up early, move their belongings out of the way and head to school and work. Every night they spread all the bedding back out.

Van Hook worries about not being able to make the payment for the storage locker and losing their belongings — beds, furniture, kitchen utensils and her son’s toys and games. She worries about not being able to make the payment for the van, or the van breaking down.

As she sits in the parents’ lounge at the martial-arts studio and watches her son’s class, she follows his movements, motions for him to adjust his belt, raises her shoulders in a question when he doesn’t line up with the other students who’ve earned green belts.

His white uniform looks sharply pressed, a miracle, Van Hook said, because she hasn’t had an iron for months. Asked if the boy feels the toll of homelessness, she said, “He just goes with the flow.”

When he finishes his routine, she mouths “I love you” through the glass. David mouths, “I love you” back.

Tim Kemp now cooks a weekly dinner at the church for the extended church family and car campers. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)
Tim Kemp now cooks a weekly dinner at the church for the extended church family and car campers. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Jami and Tim Kemp

Jami and Tim Kemp and their three teenagers moved to Seattle from Reno when Tim couldn’t find work in 2013. A family member told Tim he could work up here in her husband’s remodeling business and learn plumbing.

But the closer they got, the cooler the relative’s phone calls became, until she told him she couldn’t take on his whole family or get him a job.

For two months they drove from rest stop to rest stop along Interstate 5, sleeping in their Suburban and making calls to the King County 211 social-services hotline. The agencies they were referred to told them to call 211. When they found a shelter with vacancies, they were told the family couldn’t stay together.

Said Tim, “She was told more than once that she’d have an easier time if she left me.”

Without an address or a cellphone, they said, they couldn’t apply for public assistance or jobs. They put their belongings in a storage locker and lost everything when they couldn’t pay the monthly fee. The kids missed the last two months of school.

The whole thing taught us 100 percent tolerance … You see someone and you don’t judge.”

The family was finally pointed to the Safe Parking Program at the church, where they stayed for six months.

“It was a relief to park here, to be able to use the kitchen,” Tim said. But there is no laundry at the church, or showers. And with everyone living in the car, they couldn’t use it to get to work.

Their good luck came in the form of financial aid for Jami and Tim to attend Lake Washington Technical College. The one-time infusion of cash allowed them to rent a house in Redmond for $2,000 a month. The landlord required only the first month’s rent and a damage deposit.

“Once we got a house, we got jobs. It made life normal. We could get ready for work,” Jami said.

Now Tim, who grew up in his grandparents’ restaurant in Nevada, cooks dinner every Wednesday for the extended church family and parking-lot families. On a recent night, it was chicken, corn, gravy and mashed potatoes. Eighty people ate the free meal or made whatever donation they could.

Tim said it’s a way of “paying forward” the generosity the church showed them when they were homeless. The kids were included in the youth program, taken on trips and activities with other teens. Jami said the older women in the church “opened their arms” to her. Pastor Kelly became one of Tim’s closest friends. The other campers didn’t need to know their backgrounds to accept them.

“The whole thing taught us 100 percent tolerance,” Jami said. “The kids have become incredible people. They show so much kindness and understanding. You see someone and you don’t judge. You just don’t know what’s going on in their life.”