Kristina Sawyckyj is a former marine, serves on the board of the Resident Action Project, participates in a veterans’ support group, is an active member of her church, and is pursuing a law degree. She’s also homeless and suffers from physical disabilities requiring her to use a wheelchair. Despite holding a housing voucher from the Department of Veterans Affairs (via the United States Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program), she’s been homeless since last October. Her current shelter is a van.

Path To Homelessness

Kristina entered homelessness when she separated from her spouse. Beforehand, she lived in Snohomish County and commuted to her classes at Seattle Central Community College.

Two obstacles make Kristina’s housing search particularly difficult. First, she was fortunate to have a housing voucher through Veterans Affairs but it was only good for $1,100 a month in rent. In central Seattle, average rents for one bedrooms are likely north of $1,400 and continue to rise. Lower cost housing doesn’t fit her needs well either. Even studios in MFTE buildings cost more than her housing voucher. Alternatively, micro-housing often rents in her price range but doesn’t work due to the second factor that complicates her search. Kristina needs a wheelchair accessible unit. 

Accessible units are hard to find. The small amount of accessible housing she finds, rents quickly, oftentimes to people who don’t use a wheelchair but like the additional space. Her best option is spending hours chasing units in Seattle’s suburbs, far removed from the community she’s established, illustrating that the housing crisis is about more than average rents.

The lack of options in the private market forced Kristina to pursue nonprofit housing. Unfortunately, she didn’t have any more luck with that.

In March of 2016, a friend at church told her an accessible unit would be available in a Mercy Housing apartment building. She quickly submitted an application. Within a month, the application was denied. The unit she applied for depended on nonprofit government tax credits that come with various rules. One of the rules is a prohibition on renting to full-time students, a demographic that is seeing rising rates of hunger and homelessness. Kristina learned that a lot of nonprofit housing would be off limits since it uses the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit. Since our original conversation in November, Kristina actually stopped renewing her housing voucher because she couldn’t utilize it.

The Repercussions of Homelessness

All this crystallized the stark fact that Kristina had to choose between finishing school and having shelter. So far she has decided to continue school. “I want to get off all government programs,” Kristina told me. She wants housing but believes her education is the path to self-sufficiency.

Without housing, Kristina also loses eligibility for other supportive services. Many local social services offer support she needs but require an address. “I don’t qualify for the home healthcare services I need. I can’t open the bottles I need and sometimes go a week without medication,” she said. “In the past, I had a caregiver but it’s state policy that you have to have an address to have a caregiver.”

“You miss out on a lot being homeless,” Kristina laments.

She estimated that 80% of the food she eats is from her supportive community. Since she doesn’t have a house, she doesn’t have a kitchen. She also can’t receive meals from The Chicken Soup Brigade. “You have to have a fridge or freezer for meals on wheels.” Instead, her volunteering takes her to meetings that often provide meals. When that’s not an option, she sometimes finds herself eating Spaghetti-Os out of the can. 

While her community–her church, the veteran’s support group, friends, her school–is a large key to successfully navigating her homelessness, utilizing a housing voucher would necessitate moving away from this community.

Despite the long effort to obtain housing, Kristina joked, “The only thing that would make my housing situation worse would be if I had a pitbull service dog” and ended by saying “I’m blessed” after reflecting on all the support she’s received. She’s planning to enroll at a university in the fall and expects the school will be able to provide housing. Until then, her home is her van. 

6 COMMENTS

  1. Sounds like Ms. Sawyckyj could leave homelessness behind pretty quickly if she decided to move to an area that her vouchers will fully cover and/or picked up a part time job that makes up the difference in rent – working 20 hrs/wk @ minimum wage here in Seattle should net her around $960 after taxes. Combine that with her GI Bill benefit that should be paying her tuition and she should be sitting pretty.

    • I suspected before I published this that I would get some unsympathetic comments from people who think the solution is actually easy and all the suffering is just a result of bad personal choices. That seems to be the go to attitude with many people regarding homelessness.

      Nevertheless you didn’t read very carefully. She can’t use a voucher when she’s a student. She already enrolled at Seattle Central when she had housing. She didn’t have a GI Bill to cover her schooling.

      Thanks for you sympathy though.

      • Yikes, your comment oozes passive aggressiveness!

        My problem with the article is that it tells a story of hardship but doesn’t seem to offer up any real solutions to help Ms. Sawyckyj. I still believe that the best way for her to leave homelessness behind would be to move to outside of the City into an area that offers disability accessible living under $1,100 /mo. That should be priority #1. After she is housed then she’ll be able to once again be eligible for home healthcare services.

        You’ve been in contact with Ms. Sawyckyj since November and rather than taking concrete that helped get her out of homelessness you wrote an article…

    • I agree Seattle is expensive. My only support system is here. With my level of constant pain from my back, volunteering, more than the few hours I do, is excruciating. I cant work and attend college. I am not eligible for the GI bill, as I was in the military from 1987-1992. I pay for college out of my pocket, as I have a previous degree that I have been unable to work at due to my back and constant pain. I am hoping to retrain to do something different.

    • It is also against most voucher requirements to “pay the difference”, therefore making you ineligible for most rent rates.

  2. Thanks for your article on the complexity of the systems in our country that contradict and cancel each other. This happens in healthcare a lot as well. The system is broken and we are causing a lot of suffering because of it. I truly admire Kristina’s persistence despite the difficulties she encounters everyday. Her choice to put up with homelessness and to rely on her current support systems in order to get an education – which will hopefully result in a more stable life – is a noble and courageous one.

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