Popsicle Place provides shelter and support to families around the Puget Sound region with children who have chronic illnesses and are homeless. It is affiliated with the Seattle-based Mary’s Place program, which offers emergency shelter for homeless families.
Nycolle Benham and her three young children, two of whom have serious health problems, were living in their car a year ago before turning to the Mary’s Place emergency family shelter.
Mary’s Place nurse Kelly Brewer placed them in the Popsicle Place program that provides shelter and support to families with chronically sick children.
Brewer helped start the Popsicle Place program in 2015, after realizing that some families were becoming homeless during their sick children’s inpatient treatment at local hospitals.
Many parents are unable to work if their sick children can’t be left alone or need regular medical appointments. Brewer said families — especially those who live paycheck to paycheck — find it difficult to pay mounting bills and transportation costs.
Benham and her children lived in one of 10 rooms designed for families with children who have compromised immune systems in the Popsicle Place program at Mary’s Place in South Lake Union in Seattle. Then, last August, they were transferred to a single-family home Mary’s Place operates in Auburn to help transition families out of homelessness. In March, the family made an even bigger move.
Here is their journey, told through scenes captured by Seattle Times photographer Erika Schultz and in virtual reality video captured by videographer Dylan Tull:
Nycolle Benham watches her children play in the backyard of their Popsicle Place home in Auburn. Last year, Benham’s family had lived in one of 10 rooms designed for kids with compromised immune systems on a floor of the Mary’s Place 300-bed shelter called The Regrade, a former Days Inn motel in South Lake Union. They were moved to the two-bedroom Auburn house in August 2017. Benham noticed her daughter’s health improve when they moved out of the group shelter and into their own home.
Nycolle Benham’s youngest children lounge at their home in Auburn. Her daughter, who loves princess dresses and the movie “Frozen,” lives with a rare disease that causes her to struggle with breathing and feel like she’s suffocating at night. Benham’s youngest son was born prematurely and needs a feeding tube.
Early in the morning, the children wait in their father’s car for him to drive them to a doctor appointment in Kent. Sometimes other family members help with transportation to medical visits and other errands.
Nycolle Benham kisses her daughter in the backyard of their home in Auburn. “She is so strong and such an incredible advocate for her kids,” says Mary’s Place nurse Kelly Brewer about Benham. “It legitimately feels like a full-time job getting two kids with varied diagnoses to all of their appointments … She could never work. Her two youngest couldn’t be in day care.”
Nycolle Benham solves problems on the phone at the end of the night at her home in Auburn. The experience of working with her children’s chronic conditions inspired Benham to start taking classes at Seattle Central College to earn an associate degree in nursing.
Nycolle Benham relaxes at bedtime with her daughter and older son. Benham says the home in Auburn allowed her to focus on getting her children healthy and to look for future opportunities. “I am able to not have to worry about where we’re going to sleep,” Benham said. “I know at the end of the day where we’re going to be and that we’ll be safe.”
Nycolle Benham works on homework at the end of the night with her 8-year-old son by her side. During the autumn, she took a math and English class at Seattle Central College. “I’m really, really, really determined to make this happen,” she says. “I know this what I need to do to provide for my kids.”
Nycolle Benham blows bubbles with her two sons in the backyard of their Auburn home. “They love bubbles, they love bikes,” she says. “They are like any typical kid.”
Nycolle Benham mixes water and finely blended food for her youngest son’s feeding tube, which helps him gain weight.
Nycolle Benham makes lunch for her children in their Auburn kitchen. She says the home provides a level of security and normalcy, which is important for her children’s health. Benham has struggled with housing and providing for medically fragile children.
Nycolle Benham buckles in her older son before leaving for their new home in Spokane. This spring, she was accepted into a subsidized-housing program in Spokane, which offered her family a long-term, three-bedroom home. Mary’s Place paid the family’s deposit and first month’s rent. Benham purchased a used minivan to transport the kids and their belongings. “I feel that now I can focus on making sure we are never homeless again and to make sure that my kids have a stable life,” she said. “Things are so much easier.” Her family has a lot more room. The lower cost of living in Spokane makes it easier to stretch her funds and give her kids more opportunity for activities.