Second in a series
EVERETT – Kathy Rutherford almost feels guilty that she’s no longer homeless. She finally has a roof over her head, but it’s not quite her home yet.
She misses the friends she made in the Smokey Point area where she was homeless for three years. She took care of them, having the nickname “Socks mom.”
It’s almost like life is too easy now. When she was homeless she had to work hard for everything.
“I’m getting fat,” she said with a laugh.
Now, she has shelter and food. “People have been so generous,” said street minister Penelope Protheroe, who helped Rutherford get the housing.
Kathy has so much food, she actually went to the men’s mission in Everett with some of it.
“I like to feed people, and I now have enough to share,” Kathy told Protheroe.
But Kathy misses the companionship. The 67-year-old deaf woman takes a bus out to Smokey Point for visits. She takes food to her old friends.
“It almost seems like they’re mad at me” for leaving, she said. She wants to help them so much. She has even gone out there and done some panhandling.
“I know she’s trying to make new connections and even build relationships. In the meantime it’s just difficult that her son is homeless in Smokey Point and other people there that depended on her still tug on her heartstrings,” Protheroe said.
Kathy said she spends part of her social security check buying meals for the homeless at Smokey Point. “She still feels obligated to help them,” Protheroe said.
Not that Rutherford doesn’t like her one-bedroom apartment in downtown Everett. Her favorite thing?
“Bubble baths,” she said with her ever-present smile.
She has a mini washer-dryer setup in her living room, so she can fold clothes while watching TV.
“I have clean clothes all the time,” she said with another big smile.
She has a dishwasher and plants and a soft cushion on her bed. “It’s like sleeping on heaven,” she told Protheroe.
She has a peek-a-boo view of the Cascade mountains – and the county jail.
“The place is crawling with cops,” she joked, adding that makes her feel safe.
She walks a lot, which of course she also did when she was homeless. “I’m gone a lot,” she said. “I like getting out.”
She also loves to read – she’s in the middle of a David Baldacci novel now.
She hopes to get involved at the senior center, which is only blocks away. She has a list where she can get free meals as a low-income senior. Kathy said the one thing she is still missing is a service dog. When Penelope came over recently she couldn’t hear her at the door.
“I had my ears off,” she said of her hearing aids. A dog could let her know when people are at the door.
Kathy said the transition has not been easy. She said it was almost easier to transition to being homeless.
“I was always outside hunting and fishing,” she said, adding it’s hard to get used to the “walls around me.” Kathy said it’s hard to make new friends, “especially being a deaf person. It’s socially challenging.”
She said while there are services in Everett and Marysville to help the homeless there just isn’t much in Smokey Point. And that is where a lot of homeless end up because they are kicked out of everywhere else. But even there it has become a challenge.
“It used to be one place you could pitch a tent,” Rutherford said, adding now they have to use small tents and always be on the move.
“Homeless people are so afraid of the cops,” she said.
Penelope said Smokey Point just doesn’t have the services Everett and Marysville do. Everett has soup kitchens that serve hot meals seven days a week. “There are no organized feeding programs near Smokey Point,” Protheroe said. “I am hoping to set up a soup kitchen at Smokey Point where the homeless can come and eat, get clothes and learn about available housing and other resources.”
Kathy said she wishes people would treat the homeless better. “People treat us so nasty,” she said. “We’re not all drug addicts or crazy.”
She said they wouldn’t be dirty if they could find a place to clean their clothes and shower.
Protheroe added that poverty leads many to homeless, as they can’t come up with rent or a Section 8 voucher to get a home.
Protheroe said it’s not that hard to help the homelessness. She started by collecting and giving out clothes. “You have to cross that fear line,” she said. “I saw their need was greater than my fear.”
“Don’t be afraid of us,” Rutherford added. “Moms used to pull their little kids away from me.”