Linda Johnson, 33, has three children and a four-door sedan with diapers stashed in the back.
“You can see where you’re sitting there’s not that much room,” Johnson said, gesturing to the back seat. “That car seat has to stay there. So the 14 year old – where’s she sleeping? We have to make room back here. Rotate things to be able to sleep in here. It’s not fun.”
Until a few months ago, Johnson lived with her two children in an apartment. She works at Shari’s Cafe & Pies, but her income wasn't enough after her third child was born. Her landlord did some repairs and raised her rent to $1,000 from $750, plus utilities.
Johnson and her family were out on a few weeks’ notice with no place to go.
“Packing up my children, figuring out where we are going to be sleeping, showering,” she said. “I have to be presentable. I manage a restaurant. I can’t be there without a shower.”
Cities everywhere in our region are struggling with homelessness. In Bremerton, rising rents are forcing some families into the street. The city admits it didn't see the crisis coming.
Compared to just about anywhere else in the region, rents are low in Bremerton. But wages are also low.
“We have low rent, low income and a vulnerable population,” said Patty Lent, mayor of Bremerton.
Shelters were full when Johnson lost her apartment. She had an infant, so agencies found the money to put her in a hotel.
The money ran out, and shelters were still full. So the family went back to sleeping in the car.
Rents are up because developers have been preparing Bremerton to become a new bedroom community for Seattle, with the city’s blessing.
Mayor Lent said she now recognizes that new developments and renovations are causing displacement.
“I don’t think that I gave enough attention to caution," she said. "I didn’t have a Plan B. I see that we didn’t prepare to prevent that."
Lent said there are empty houses that could be fixed up for low-income families.
The county does offer a protected place where people can sleep in their cars. There’s also talk of building tiny houses and of a housing levy to expand the supply of affordable housing.
None of these ideas will get Johnson into an apartment soon.
“You get 90 days in the state of Washington in an emergency shelter,” said Sheryl Piercy, social services director at the Bremerton Corp of the Salvation Army. “So, then what? What would she do?”
Johnson said she will stay focused on finding a solution. “I’m getting through and we’re going to do this,” she said. “We will get a house and everything happens for a reason.”
Carolyn Adolph can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.