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One woman’s journey as she tries to beat homelessness

SEATTLE — There are about 8,500 homeless people in Seattle, according to the latest count that happened in January.

And out of that, unsheltered homeless people grew by almost 1,000 from 2016 to 2017.

Each person has a unique story of how they became destitute and how they plan to rise above.

As a journalist, many times we only get to talk to people just once, tell their story, and move on — but this story is different.

Q13 News has been keeping tabs on Rebecca Massey for about 9 months now.

The first time we met Massey, she was in a state of crisis; she was homeless and living under the West Seattle Bridge.

With the city facing a tremendous homeless crisis, we wanted to understand her struggles and hoping that one day she climbs out of it. We don’t have that happy ending, not yet — but Massey does have a story to tell.

Massey moved to the Seattle area in 2016 from Oklahoma. She moved here without a job and little savings. She was hoping to find a job here and begin a new chapter in her life. But it didn’t turn out that way.

She couldn’t find a job and the odd jobs she found wasn’t enough to pay the bills. So she’s been homeless for more than a year.
And when you are homeless, you spend a lot of time thinking about things like shoes and socks.

“I usually wear a pair of socks to bed,” Massey said.

And the jacket she had on during our interview doesn't ever come off on these cold, wet days

“I always like to have a nice warm hat,” Massey said.

The fact she has access to the basics makes her better off than others.

Right now she is one of 42 homeless people living at Second Chance, a city-funded homeless camp.

“This is my tiny home,” Massey said.

It's a big change from when we first met Massey. Back in April, the city had just been "swept" from the homeless encampment under the West Seattle Bridge. The city gave Massey a place to stay but she refused.

“I would be isolated from the people I feel like I am family with,” Massey said.

That sense of family kept her on the streets for weeks after but Massey eventually got tired of moving from one spot to the next. She also realized it was not safe so she accepted the city's help.

When she first moved into Second Chance, she was assigned to a tent. That tent now has been upgraded to a tiny home.

“This has been a huge difference,” Massey said.

She has four walls, windows and just enough space for a sleeping bag, some makeup and a bicycle.

“Being able to save money, I think, that's the next step,” Massey said.

Massey said the same thing four months ago during our last visit to her but this time there is real progress.

“I've got a job. I got help getting my resume together,” Massey said.

She's waitressing at a downtown Seattle restaurant to save enough to get her own place.

"Best-case scenario, I think, (in) six months I think I will have a good base of money saved up."

If her timeline is correct, that would be almost a year at a transitional camp meant for short-term stays.

“I think people kind of get comfortable,” Massey said.

Massey is trying to avoid that trap she's seen others fall into.

“They get afraid to keep trying; it's easy to kind of say this is good enough,” Massey said.

That's where camp manager Eric Davis steps in.

“This is a transitional spot. It's not meant to stay 20 years. After 3 to 4 months, after working with case managers and myself, we look at you and say, what are you doing for yourself?” Davis said.

Davis says Seattle is in desperate need of more permanent low-income housing but he also knows it's not as easy as building them.

“That individual needs to get up, have the tenacity and the will to be responsible mature adults,” Davis said.

At Second Chance, there is no alcohol or drugs allowed but Massey admits when she's outside the fences, drugs are easy to find.

“I could probably within the hour get drugs,” Massey said.

She confirms what many outreach workers do'`t want to admit -- that many living on the streets are using.

“The majority of people have a drug problem or an addiction problem,” Massey said.

She's determined to keep a straight path.

“I’ve run into the stigma myself where people think homeless people are a certain way,” Massey said.

To prove that homelessness does not define her.

The longer people like Massey stay in a transitional spot, it creates a bottleneck, occupying spaces that are needed for the unsheltered homeless people.

But Massey is determined to succeed.