When Candi Olson started working at Immanuel Lutheran Church in South Lake Union back in 2007, she was met with a new, unexpected set of neighbors.

Across the church’s parking lot on Pontius Avenue sat an old, wooden Craftsman home, a remnant of Seattle’s earlier days, before this was the neighborhood of Amazon and redevelopment. Homeless people had moved to the abandoned house, some squatting inside and others living in tents in the backyard. On summer nights, Olson would see them circled around a fire.

“They were doing fine,” Olson said. “They were just trying to get by and survive.”

One woman in the group, standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall, was easy to spot, Olson said. “She would always have a smile.”

Olson knew her as “Christi,” but her name was Tanya Jackson, and she was a former resident of Anchorage, Alaska.

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Jackson was killed last week when a skirmish outside a downtown McDonald’s, at Third Avenue and Pine Street, escalated into a gunfight and mass shooting. Seven other people were shot but Jackson was the lone fatality of the Jan. 22 incident.

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One person is in custody and two other suspects remain at large.

When Olson saw the news of the shooting, she wondered who the victims were. Days later, she found out Jackson was among them. She was particularly saddened because she knew how hard Jackson had to work to even survive to the age of 50.

“I was very disturbed,” Olson said. “She was a great person.”

Tanya Jackson, 50, was shot and killed during a shooting in downtown Seattle that left seven people injured. (Courtesy of Plymouth Housing)
Tanya Jackson, 50, was shot and killed during a shooting in downtown Seattle that left seven people injured. (Courtesy of Plymouth Housing)

The story of how Jackson ended up on the street corner where she was killed begins with that old Craftsman home and an understanding property developer.

The house was falling apart when Plymouth Housing, a homeless-services provider that connects chronically homeless people with permanent housing, purchased the lot in 2011. Plymouth’s plan was to raze the structure and build an 81-unit apartment building, the organization’s first project in South Lake Union.

But before development could get underway, Olson and others at Immanuel Lutheran worked with Plymouth to find a way to help those, like Jackson, who were living on the property.

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Olson wasn’t very comfortable with homeless people when she first met Jackson. But after four years watching them stick together and look out for one another, Olson’s views shifted.

“They really are just like you and I; the only difference is they’re living on the streets or in tents,” Olson said. “We all want the same things. They want to be happy and fed and clothed.”

Plymouth ended up working with the eight or nine people living at the home, helping to get them into one of the 12 permanent, supportive apartment buildings the organization operated at the time. Jackson was one of the first to move out of her tent and into a unit in downtown Seattle. It was hard on the others when Jackson left, Olson said. “She was one of the protectors.”

Outsiders: A podcast from Project Homeless and KNKX

KNKX Public Radio and The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless spent one year in Washington state’s capital, reporting on how that city grappled with homelessness. Hear more about what we learned from Olympia’s experience by subscribing to our new podcast “Outsiders.”
KNKX Public Radio and The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless spent one year in Washington state’s capital, reporting on how that city grappled with homelessness. Hear more about what we learned from Olympia’s experience by subscribing to our new podcast “Outsiders.”

At the time of her death, Jackson was living in a Plymouth Housing facility called A.L. Humphrey House, about 10 blocks away from where she was killed. No staff members were surprised to hear that she was out in the community that day. She was always out and about, they said.

Many who obtain housing with Plymouth live there for the rest of their lives. Buildings are staffed with social workers and housing case managers. Some have nurses on site.

Some residents need a lot of support, staff said. Jackson wasn’t one of them.

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“She always had a plan, a place to be,” said Alston Crudup, Tanya’s housing case worker from 2017 to 2019.

When Jackson would pass Crudup in the hall, her case worker would try to ask her how it was going, what she needed. It took months before Jackson started sharing, and even when she did, it was more to tell Crudup how she was going to solve her problem.

“She was really self-sufficient and resilient,” Crudup said. “I think that speaks to her stability.”

Jackson had friends across the city, many living in other Plymouth buildings that she visited regularly. Staff members recall seeing her riding around Seattle on her bike.

“It was like out of a European movie with her hair flowing,” said Michael Quinn, director of social services at Plymouth Housing. “She was very visible in the community, hard to miss.”

Plymouth staff are still trying to piece together what Jackson was doing downtown when last week’s shooting occurred. Staff say Jackson was last seen with a friend, another Plymouth resident who lives in a different building, who also was shot and critically injured in the incident. She remains at Harborview Medical Center.

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In the days following Jackson’s death, she’s been remembered for how much joy she brought to a room.

Luke, her next-door neighbor at A.L. Humphrey House, said she often would knock on his door to ask how he was doing. Sometimes she’d offer him the food she was cooking.

“Her room’s quiet now,” he said.

A private memorial service will be held for Jackson at A.L. Humphrey House. Plymouth has yet to determine a date.

Clarification: A previous version of this story misstated how many permanent, supportive apartment buildings Plymouth Housing operated in 2011. The organization operated 12 at the time but now operate 14.