Crystal Gonzalez and her boyfriend both became residents of Camp Unity after their landlord gave them a 30-day notice and sold the townhouse they were renting. Aaron Kunkler/Redmond Reporter

Crystal Gonzalez and her boyfriend both became residents of Camp Unity after their landlord gave them a 30-day notice and sold the townhouse they were renting. Aaron Kunkler/Redmond Reporter

A conversation with Camp Unity residents

The Point-In-Time count for King and Snohomish counties took place last week, and volunteers spread out to count thousands of people experiencing homelessness in the early morning hours of Jan. 26.

In 2016, King County had more than 11,500 people living without a home in the county, with 5,485 of them being unsheltered.

While the results from this year’s count won’t be out until April, there’s a good chance they could be higher than last year.

As King County and the Eastside continue to get more expensive, the homelessness crisis is likely to intensify as more people are priced out of housing or lose jobs due to cuts or automation.

One organization trying to address the problem is Camp Unity Eastside near Woodinville, which provides a secure place for those without a house to call home.

On a recent evening, Crystal Gonzalez, Ivan Dempsey and Daniel Cottrell were sitting in a tent at the camp filled with chairs, racks of clothes and a computer.

Framed sketches and paintings hung from the wall. One was a caricature of Camp Unity residents that Cottrell made.

All three said they were grateful for a place like Camp Unity, which provides them with a safe place to sleep, food and a community.

They also said there are many misconceptions about people who find themselves without a home.

“Most people are a paycheck away from being in a place like this,” Dempsey said.

Gonzalez and her boyfriend are an example of this series of events.

She moved up from Phoenix and in with her boyfriend, who now also lives at Camp Unity, in Puget Sound. He had a place he had been renting for around eight years and works a decent paying union job.

However, their landlord did an inspection of the property and decided they could get more money selling it than renting.

The couple was given a 30-day notice to evict, Gonzalez said.

“We ended up not finding any place we could rent,” she said.

A friend gave them an old trailer they could use, but parks in the area wouldn’t take it due to its age.

Ironically, she said they were denied residence at some trailer parks because the park owners viewed old trailers as being associated with homelessness.

Other apartments they looked at were expensive and wouldn’t let couples occupy them.

They bounced between friends couches and hotels, which drained their savings, before they ended up at Camp Unity last May.

“There’s nothing affordable,” Gonzalez said.

Cottrell, a lifelong Washington state resident, had a similar story.

He has an associates degree in electronics and used to work for national cell phone companies in the area before the industry ran into trouble.

His rent was also increased to a point where he couldn’t afford to stay.

Others work temp jobs for around $15 an hour or more.

“Most of the campers here work or have some sort of labor that they do,” Gonzalez said.

Even still, housing is still out of reach for many folks.

According to RentCafe, the average price of a studio apartment in Redmond is $1,500, up 5 percent from last year.

The picture is equally as bleak across the Eastside, with studios in Kirkland and Bellevue clocking in at $1,305 and $1,619, respectively.

Government housing assistance is scarce too, with multi-year wait times to get housing vouchers.

Increased regulation of the housing market, which would prevent landlords from charging unrealistically high rents, was needed to help people from becoming homeless, the three agreed.

Higher wages could also help.

“It’s a humanitarian crisis, that’s what it is,” Dempsey said.

While the camp provides shelter for the people that live there, Gonzalez, Dempsey and Cottrell all want to get back on their feet.

“Give people a chance, not only to hope, but to dream, because everybody wants to go home again,” Cottrell said.

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