The Craigslist ad placed online in mid-July was to the point. “Wanted,” it read. “Elderly Port Orchard couple lost their home to commercial property developers. Homeless and with disabilities.”
The want ad offered $500 a month for anyone who could help Maggie Callahan, 63, and David Sears, 57, find a place to live.
But more than two weeks after the ad was placed, Callahan and Sears are still on the streets.
“We don’t commit crimes,” Callahan said. “But we’re staying on the street.”
Callahan and Sears are no strangers to struggles. A tall, red-headed woman, Callahan said she went through a dark time of drugs and alcohol abuse in the mid-1990s. She was arrested a few times, but moved up to Port Orchard with Sears in 1998 to get away from her problems, and has largely stayed out of trouble since, she said.
Until recently, Callahan used her limited Social Security Income to pay rent at a trailer park located at 2734 Mitchell Road. She lived at the park with her partner, Sears, who suffers from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, an Alzheimer’s-like syndrome commonly occurring after long periods of alcohol abuse.
But in June, Callahan got word that they were tearing down the trailer park to make room for a small business complex. The person whom they rented the trailer from was moving. Callahan and Sears were left finding a new place to live.
“When it came time to leave I couldn’t find a place for us,” Callahan said. “I don’t blame them (the trailer park owners). They let us stay some extra time.”
Enter 52-year-old cancer survivor Bonnie Price. Price first heard Callahan and Sears’ story while helping a friend move out of the trailer park on Mitchell. Living on disability and social security income herself, Price, who has a handicapped daughter, took pity on Callahan and offered to help her.
“Maggie has a heart of gold,” Price said. “She tries to help too many people. Sometimes it’s too much.”
Price briefly invited Callahan and Sears to move in to her apartment complex while they were looking for a new place. The problem was, because Price lives in low-income designated Section 8 housing, she is not allowed to house extra guests. Her apartment complex — which she requested not be named in the Port Orchard Independent — found out about Callahan and Sears, along with the various other homeless individuals that were starting to come to Price for help. The managers at the apartment complex threatened to kick her out. Price was forced to boot the couple out on the streets.
“They (the apartment managers) were really nervous about the whole situation,” Price said. “I had to ask Maggie to leave.”
Callahan and Sears now squat in abandon houses and fear the police. But Before the couple left, Price posted a Craigslist ad in an effort to help the elderly couple find a place to live. In the ad, Price tried to explain the couple’s story and search for people who could help. She knew they couldn’t be the only ones struggling, Price said.
“Many have been affected lately,” she said.
According to Department of Social and Health Services numbers provided by the Kitsap Community Resources Center, Kitsap County had 2,637 people who identified themselves as homeless in March. Forty-six percent of the homeless were without any sort of housing, while 54 percent were homeless living in a shelter, a vehicle or a tent outside. Zip code information showed 605 homeless people living in South Kitsap.
Price said she received 30-40 emails in the time the Craigslist posting was online, but had a hard time finding people who followed up. And for the few that did, Price said they wouldn’t be a good fit for the struggling couple.
“I had people looking for roommates,” Price said. “Maggie and David wouldn’t be able to handle roommates.”
Jim Stowers, Kitsap Community Resources Homeless Services Manager, said KCR has a variety of resources such as their rapid rehousing program and the Housing Solution Center that could help the couple. But there isn’t a shelter available for couples without children.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which manages low-income Section 8 housing
that Callahan and Sears hope to qualify for, has rules against people with a criminal record. The housing takes some paperwork and follow-through to complete; something Callahan and Sears aren’t necessarily the best at.
“Maggie has a lot of stuff on her plate,” Price said.
Price said she can’t comprehend what Callahan and Sears are going through after losing the home they lived in for seven years. Callahan is trying hard to look for a new location, Price said, but rental application fees and move-in deposits don’t fit in the couples’ budget.
“Affording the rent isn’t the problem,” Price said. “They don’t have money for an application fee right away, so they lose the place they’re looking at.”
Callahan said she hoped Aug. 1 and a new social security check would help the couple find a place. Callahan said Price tried to give her some email addresses of the Craigslist responses, but because Callahan doesn’t have easy access to a computer, she doesn’t have a way to call on the rentals.
Until they find a home, the couple will continue panhandling at the Safeway on Bethel Avenue and living in abandon houses, a dim prospect for 63-year-old Callahan.
“I can’t keep doing this much more,” she said.