Down, not out

By Kelsey Par - Staff Reporter

Theresa Hill knows what it's like to be homeless.

Thirty years ago, Hill and her ex-husband owned their own home, had two cars, made over $100,000 per year and were living the so-called American Dream.

In 1994, Hill became "burnt out" from working the same job, doing the same monotonous tasks, and coming home after long days of work to raise her three children virtually by herself.

This, among other things, led to her divorce from her husband.

"I just fell out of love with him [her husband] and I was sober at the time. It's not like I was thinking crazy or anything, I just couldn't stand his negativity," Hill said.

Soon after, she began using drugs and drinking after a six-year streak of sobriety.

"Our marriage fell apart and I ended up losing everything. I started drinking again and slipped into drug abuse. Instead of anyone helping me, they labeled me as a thief and a drug addict and just turned their backs on me," she said.

Hill then lost her home and had nowhere to go.

"I was so depressed that I didn't even care that I had lost my house. I looked forward to being homeless to be honest, because I had never been homeless. I thought it would be a new adventure because at that point, anything was better than the depression I felt," she said.

She soon discovered the realities about homelessness and the harsh conditions the streets of Seattle had to offer.

Hill was only one of an estimated 11,000 homeless people in King County.

According to a recent study from the King County Coalition on Homelessness, 4,505 people in King County were living on the streets in 2016, 3,200 in shelters, and 2,983 living transitionally - couch surfing or moving from place to place.

Their 2016 annual report showed that hundreds of people are living without basic overnight shelter and the overall increase in homeless continues to rise by an estimated 18 percent per year.

A majority of the homeless population resides in Seattle, but due to the high cost of living, people continue to leave the city.

"The federal government has been pushing human resources into the main city. As income inequality has happened over the past 10 years, people have moved out to the suburbs, but the resources haven't followed," said State Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-33rd district.

Many of the people living in South King County have limited access to health care, homeless shelters and food banks.

Shelters are full every night and those who are lucky enough to get in will most likely sleep on the floor and will have to be back out on the street with their belongings before 7 a.m., according to the Coalition on Homelessness.

"Most of the homeless people you see on the street are facing drug problems and mental health issues," Rep. Gregerson said.

Hill was just one of the many homeless people battling with substance abuse.

She consistently used drugs for the 10 years that she lived without a home.

Instead of holding up cardboard signs and asking people for money, she collected cans, scrap metal and sold meth and heroin.

"Being homeless was a full-time job in itself," Hill said.

She said that although she didn't have any responsibilities, she was constantly moving around.

"It was a daily struggle because you never really get anywhere when you're homeless. It was just a total beat down. I was constantly trying to figure out where I was going to go to the bathroom, what I was going to eat, where I was going to get cleaned up at, how I was going to get money, and how I was going to get drugs," Hill said.

After several years of this, Hill decided that she didn't want to live on the streets anymore.

"When I finally decided that I didn't want to be homeless anymore, I didn't know how to get a job or anything at that point," she said.

"I was so downtrodden and feeling so lonely about myself that I just started selling drugs. It was the only way I could get myself out of it."

Hill saved enough money to move into a small apartment in SeaTac where she sold drugs and lived for the next 10 years.

"I went through 10 years of that [selling drugs] before I finally got arrested by the feds just two years ago. I was looking at a 10-year mandatory minimum in prison, but instead I got accepted into drug court and I went to intensive outpatient treatment," Hill said.

After successfully completing treatment and drug court, she started going to an asset class through the Catholic Community Services where they hired her as a front desk associate upon graduation.

"They are truly amazing people [her co-workers] and they've helped me turn my life back around," Hill said.

Hill said she feels unfulfilled at times and still struggles with depression, but she is thankful for her sobriety, what she has and that she got a second chance.

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