First in a series
LAKEWOOD – For the past three years, Kathy Rutherford, 67 and deaf, has been homeless, living in a big orange tent hidden in various treed locations.
But not anymore.
Local street minister Penelope Protheroe met Kathy at the corner of 172nd and Wal-mart in Smokey Point. Kathy caught Penelope’s attention because of the sign she was holding. “Start your morning with God,” it says.
Instantly impressed that a homeless woman could have such faith, Penelope wanted to help. As they talked, Kathy broke down in tears. “I can’t do this any more,” she said.
Penelope admitted she “overpromised” what she could do, but it actually happened. Within days, Penelope was able to get Kathy into housing.
Help began almost immediately when Penelope posted on social media about Kathy’s plight and received 25 responses within an hour. Everything quickly fell into place.
As for Penelope, Kathy said: “I don’t believe she’s real. She did things for me in two days, I could not do in nine months by myself. She’s like an angel.”
As for furniture for her apartment, “We already have most of it,” Penelope said. “All donated by the community. They just poured out their hearts to her.”
In her street ministry, Penelope has found, “People want to help if they can. They share things from their own house or extra…”
Rutherford moved to Arlington in 1997 and lived in a mobile home until she got sick and lost everything. She moved into an apartment, but when the rent was raised she became homeless. “Nobody takes Section 8” subsidized housing, she said, adding there are 10 applicants for each apartment. Kathy lost a home three years ago when the owners raised the rent to $1,000 a month. Section 8 will pay up to $998. “I lost my home over two dollars,” she said.
Kathy said she’s actually luckier than most homeless because she has an income – $755 a month from Social Security. She has lived in a tent with her son, Chris, who is 42. She has had to move it many times. “Police make us move,” she said. “There are so many of us out here.”
Kathy said her nickname is “Socks Mom” because she buys socks for everyone. “Toes turn black, and they get infections. Half are starving of malnutrition,” she said of people living on the streets.
Kathy said it’s tough to get out of homelessness. “I haven’t taken a shower in a month,” she said. “We can’t keep up our appearances. And how can we get a job with no clean clothes?”
Kathy has moved into an apartment in Everett. Her son can’t even visit. “They’re very strict about it,” she said.
But she does take a bus back out to visit her homeless friends.
“She’s too soft-hearted,” Protheroe said, adding she is very generous with what she has.
Kathy said it’s hard to believe she’s been homeless. Growing up she lived in a big house. Her dad did well as a plumbing contractor. When grown, she worked two jobs before going on disability because of bad hearing.
“I never in my life imagined this would happen to me,” she said, adding most people don’t treat homeless very well. “They look at me like I’m the filth of the earth.
Kathy admitted before she became homeless she didn’t pay much attention to them. “I was pretty stupid about them,” she said. “I saw them without seeing them.”
Kathy said the local homeless have gotten worse in the past year.
“They’re more shabby looking,” she said. “All of a sudden Smokey Point is so shabby … underwear on sidewalks.”
Kathy said there is no way to get warm on the streets, and she has had many bouts of pneumonia.
She said there are others like Penelope who want to help. Like the nearby 360Church bought a two-shower trailer, but now can’t find a place to hook it up.
Along with social security, Kathy gets $100 a month in food stamps. Despite her situation, she seems like a very happy person.
“I always see them every day, some who are worse off,” she said. “I’m actually one of the lucky ones on the street. I don’t have to panhandle or steal just to eat.”
She then asked a question all should consider. “How many days do you think you could go hungry before stealing?”
Kathy said homeless lack appliances to cook, so they often resort to drive-throughs.
“Fast food is so expensive,” she said, adding many things on the street are. For example, it costs about $5 for a bus ride just for her to get to town to get her mail. Kathy can’t eat in front of others. “I can’t sit and eat when fifty feet away someone is hungry. I’m not greedy enough,” she said.
Kathy said she used to have a service dog, but it was killed by another dog when she stayed at a cold-weather shelter in Kelso one night. “Without him I’m literally terrified,” she said.
Penelope chimed in she will get another dog. “There are agencies here to help you,” Penelope said, to which Kathy responded, “They’re overburdened right now.”
Kathy’s new apartment is $950 a month, of which she pays 30 percent. The YWCA is covering the deposits.
Kathy said more people like Penelope are needed to help advocate for the homeless. Paying first and last month’s rents, along with a deposit, is nearly impossible for homeless.
“I can’t forget these people,” she said.
Part 2: Kathy Rutherford tries to get comfortable in her new home.
Hope for the Homeless This three-part webinar series is on how to bring life-changing assistance to the homeless. We will shed some light on misconceptions, judgments and fear people have about helping the homeless. Each webinar will give hands-on guidance to help you make a difference in the lives of the homeless near you. The 45-minute webinars will be at 11 a.m. July 26, and Aug. 2 and 9. Register at zoom.us/webinar/register/32dd4e104b20207466858a512be5123a