A twisted path to homelessness - Salish Current

Physically disabled and recurrently depressed, 54-year-old Megan is living in temporary housing. As with many others who become homeless, Megan has lost important connections to her family and friends, and the spiral into homelessness has happened in stages over several years. (John Dunne courtesy photo)


This is the fourth in a series of profiles of some of Whatcom County’s unhoused community members by volunteer contributor John Dunne.

The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

At 54, Megan is physically disabled, recurrently depressed and in temporary housing. Megan shares two important characteristics with many others who become homeless: she has lost important connections to her family and friends, and becoming homeless has happened in stages over several years. But her downward spiral had an unusual twist: Megan was born male.

She grew up in an isolated area of Bothell as an only child. Her parents divorced when she was two and she rarely saw her father. Her mother was a maintenance alcoholic — drinking to avoid withdrawal rather than to become intoxicated. She spent little time with Megan, who spent most of her time alone. She recalls feeling different from the other boys but in third grade began suppressing those feelings and acting more typically male. By fourth grade she was smoking marijuana.

Megan’s life has been marked by instability and complexity. She described living a hyper-masculine life to cover up feeling feminine.

Professionally, she trained as a machinist, learning the programming language necessary for operating highly sophisticated fabrication machines that produce replacement parts and require specific programming for each part.

 She rose to production manager at a small Seattle manufacturing company which made replacement parts, primarily for the Navy. 

Megan married and had two daughters but the marriage was never very solid. She and her wife separated in 2001, occasionally reconciling and never divorcing.

Out of work — and evicted

During her mother’s declining health, Megan moved in with her. When the economy collapsed during 2007 to 2009, the government placed a hold on all discretionary purchases by the military, which forced her company out of business. Megan was suddenly out of work. 

Her mother died about a year later. Proceeds from the sale of her mother’s house, split with her daughters, were meager but sustained her in an apartment. Following a flood of childhood memories about feeling feminine, Megan started identifying as female two months after her mother’s death. She repeatedly clashed with her headstrong older daughter. Her younger daughter, the peacemaker, didn’t want to antagonize her sister. Megan has not talked to either of them for 10 years. 

Megan was evicted from her apartment after someone whom she once had allowed to live there broke in and had a party which resulted in the police being called. With no resources and no job, she began sleeping in the back of her truck. Moving to Bellingham from Seattle cut ties with her Seattle friends.

Megan has difficulty recalling dates and sequences, which she attributes to “living in the moment,” although it may relate to a three-day coma of a sort which commonly affects short-term memory loss, following a bike accident when she was 22. Impulsive decisions seem to have been common. Following her move to Bellingham, she agreed to drive a friend to Mississippi to help the friend’s friend, someone Megan didn’t know, who had been charged with murder. 

Back in Bellingham, she was arrested for loitering and spent 10 days in jail. While in jail, her truck was impounded but she didn’t have the money to retrieve it.  She managed to get by for a few years sleeping in doorways and other overhangs. 

That changed abruptly in 2012 when Megan was injured in a hit-and-run accident. Two weeks later her hip collapsed. Because she had no fixed address and moved almost daily, surgery could not be scheduled. Now she walks with great difficulty using a walker.  

Although she began receiving SSI Disability payments, it wasn’t enough for a cheap apartment. Megan did have short stays at Francis Place and the Lighthouse Mission where she clashed with their religious approaches.  She also had a short stay at the YWCA but was asked to leave after they discovered a pot pipe. Without temporary housing, she slept in a tent in nearby woods.

The cloud of depression

In the past, she has tried LSD, psychedelic mushrooms and methamphetamine. She still occasionally uses marijuana. Alcohol was never much of an issue for her because of her mother’s alcoholism. What has been more of a problem for Megan has been recurrent depression throughout her adult life. 

It recently became so severe that she spent three months at the Lake Whatcom Treatment Center. Those three months of treatment were capped by contracting COVID, which required two more weeks in a city quarantine facility. The staff at Lake Whatcom Treatment Center  worked with the Opportunity Council’s Homeless Service Center to arrange temporary housing for her again at the YWCA.

Megan’s future is still very uncertain. Surgery for her hip is still a possibility but she is uneasy about it for reasons she couldn’t explain. Additionally, she needs corrective eye surgery. Meditation helps her focus on the moment, countering troublesome thoughts. Helping others who are worse off is her sustaining interest. That is something she would like to continue doing, perhaps as a trained peer counselor.

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