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Out in the Cold


The gold Ford Escape is home: the dining room, the bedroom, and the living room. It’s also the office: where they receive and fill Doordash orders. The gold Ford Escape is the last thread that connects Karen Hager, 71, and her son Mikael, 40, to a future with less worry and uncertainty.


In October 2021, the landlord at the house in Monroe decided to part ways with his management company and terminated their lease early. Affordable housing was impossible to come by, especially on short notice. Mikael’s sporadic work doing odd jobs and Karen’s retirement from her years as an IT project manager just wasn’t enough. First, they lived at a motel until money ran out, and now, they live in their car. The thing they miss the most? “Bathrooms,” says Mikael. “Having access to a bathroom is the biggest challenge.”


Occasionally, they have offers to house sit. It’s those times where they have clean, running water and a bed to sleep in that contrasts to the typical night sleeping in their SUV in a parking lot where they feel relatively safe. Parking lots like the Monroe Library, until another man experiencing homelessness left trash and debris in his wake and caused problems with Monroe Police. After that, nobody could park at the library anymore. So, they moved over to the parking lot at New Hope Fellowship, quiet and out of the way. The same man found that spot, too. One night, his screaming at a girlfriend who lived in the apartment across the street attracted too much attention. And again, Monroe Police forced everyone out of the parking lot permanently.


Despairing of finding safety and peace, Karen and Mikael’s fortunes turned upward when the temperature turned down. In February 2022, they connected with Roger Evans, VOA’s Homelessness Prevention Navigator at the cold weather shelter inside New Hope Fellowship where they once parked. They were provided with beds, hot food, and an opportunity.


“Roger has been our ‘go-to’ for everything, and he’s made quite the difference. He was able to get us two or three gas cards,” each worth forty dollars, Mikael remembers. They used these cards for startup costs to begin working at Doordash. In July, after more than 900 “dashes,” their delivery days came to an end. Fuel prices keep climbing, so places like Redmond, where business is brisk, is too much of an investment, leaving them with little for fuel, food, or bills like the cell phone. The cell phone where they connect to work.


Running water. Internet. Laundry. A table to sit and eat. The things most of us take for granted are the challenges the Hagers experience every day. But they aren’t giving up. Even faced with obstacles, their optimism keeps them working toward stability. They expect to have their own apartment by October 1. It’s month-to-month, but it is more stable than the gold Ford Escape. And they get to stay in Monroe. Without a VOA connecting them to a partner like Snohomish County to help with move-in costs, it wouldn’t be possible.


In the meantime, they are living in the converted garage at New Hope Fellowship, guests of church elders Greg and Alva. They have warmth and safety. And while nobody would argue that being cold and without shelter is a blessing, the people they met during these challenging times have been. And they’ve given a mother and her son the gift of hope.


 

Karen & Mikael are on a path to stability that often eludes those experiencing homelessness. Through the work of VOA, partners like Snohomish County, and generous donations from neighbors like you, we can continue to bridge the gap between helplessness and hope. To donate, click here.


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