ESCAPING FROM what she says was "a domestic violence situation," Marquitta Harris Hunter arrived in Seattle from Norfolk, Va., on January 28 of this year (Super Bowl Sunday, she recalls). Accompanying her were her 3-year-old son, her 17-year-old daughter, and 4-month-old granddaughter. They were later joined by four other family members from Cleveland, who were also escaping a violent home life. The family spent months bouncing around local shelters. Then on Sept. 1, with the help of a local organization called Solid Ground, Hunter and her family moved into a five- bedroom house in Renton, which she now rents through the federal government's Section 8 subsidized-housing program. Hunter has furnished her home with items from the Sharehouse, a local nonprofit that offers free housewares to formerly homeless people. Mark D. Fefer
Seattle Weekly: Where did you go when you first came to Seattle?
Marquitta Harris Hunter: To First Hill. My Mom lives there. But she's in [city-subsidized] senior-citizen housing so we couldn't live with her. They let us stay there for a month, they were only supposed to let us stay there for two weeks. I was looking for a place, calling shelters. They were giving my mom a hard time. She only has a one-bedroom apartment, and there's all these senior citizens, and it's hard to keep a 3-year-old quiet. I was going to Seattle Housing Authority, but there was a waiting list. It takes a long time. There's been people that have been on that waiting list for five to 10 years. I went to a community-services office that's part of the Seattle Police Department and they put us in a hotel, the Seattle Inn, for two weeks.
Where did you go after that?
I got into Seattle emergency housing, at 12th and Fir. It was a two-bedroom apartment. You can stay there for three weeks. My income isn't enough for me to really rent anything. My daughter was trying to go to school to get her GED, so I'm watching her little one. Man, it was crazy for a minute there.
So what were you doing to find housing?
I'm still calling, filling out applications. That's when I got into Fremont family shelter, in April. It's off Nickerson, by the Ballard Bridge. I was calling King County South, New Beginnings, all these transitional-housing places, plus shelters, the East Cherry YWCA, Broadview, they've got a list of them on the crisis line. It so happened Fremont had a slot available. The others were full. There's a lot of homeless people.
How long could you stay there?
The time limit was April to July. During that time, I acquired my other three grandchildren from back East. Their mom was having a really hard time. My son was in Tennessee at the time, trying to get into the National Guard. I had to go all the way back East to get my two grandchildren, plus their brother, and bring them back here. So now I've got five little kids, plus myself and my daughter. And I'm looking for housing, taking the bus.
How did you get this place?
I got my Section 8 voucher on June 12. Solid Ground helped expedite it for me. Usually you have to wait a long time for that, there's people waiting years. I found this house on July 1. Landlords list properties they have available to people with Section 8 vouchers.
Then the mom of my three grand children, [she got beat up], and so she called me crying. So out of my [welfare] check, I actually sent for her to come here. So now it's all three of us—myself, my daughter, my grandchildren's mom, and we kind of combined our households, and we're trying to do it together. We moved in here September 1.
What did you have with you?
Not a thing. Not a thing. We just had our clothes and linens and dishes, that kind of thing, no furniture. We made pallets on the floor.
When did you make your first trip to Sharehouse?
An agency has to make an appointment for you. Mine was on September 18.
Had you ever been to a place like that before?
No. I was impressed, really impressed. You can get two large items—bed, couch, dresser—and two small items—ottoman, chair, a desk. This dinette table I have, even though it doesn't have any chairs, it's cherry wood. I couldn't believe it! It is absolutely gorgeous. I'd never be able to afford anything like that. I was very impressed. Got that the second time around, yesterday. I got a bed, the headboard and the footboard to go with it. And I got the desk. And you can get all the dishes and stuff you can carry. They just have stacks and stacks of dishes, kitchenware period. They have lots of linens. It's better than a thrift store. They have great stuff. The limit is two appointments.
So what all do you have now?
We have three beds, and I bought a couch from St. Vincent de Paul's. So we're just bunking together right now, you know, but at least we're not on the floor. I feel real good about it. We've only been in the house 28 days and we're able actually to sit on a couch, sit at a table, to be functional. My grandson is 6 years old and that was really bugging me—I hated for him to be sleeping on the floor and have to get up off the floor and go to school. At least he's in a house, but I feel so much better now that he's in a bed. He's only 6. I didn't want that kind of pressures on him like that.
Is there any time limit for you on this place?
King County puts the lease together. They put you on a one-year lease. After that it's month to month. I'm going to try to buy this house eventually. I have a fenced-in backyard, a basketball court, a one-car garage. I almost cried when they handed me the keys. This house on Maple Valley Road is truly a blessing.