Approve Prop. 1: Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy | Guest column

Karen Lee, a U.S. Army veteran and CEO of Plymouth Housing, shares why King County voters should vote to approve Proposition 1.

By Karen Lee, Plymouth Housing

As a veteran, I know firsthand that the transition from military life to civilian life is difficult. My last duty station was in Aberdeen, Maryland — across the country from Seattle where I aspired to live my next chapter as a civilian. Fortunately, my family lived in Tacoma, and I was enrolled at the UW Law School.

But even with all my privilege, becoming a civilian was challenging. During my military career, housing, food, and other basic needs were met. I was part of a team, and I lived, ate, and trained with my teammates. As a civilian, I had to pay for rent, food, clothes, and utilities. Most devastating of all, I no longer had my team.

Loneliness and depression are often intertwined in the transition process. And then there is PTSD. Veterans are at an increased risk of living with PTSD. Without treatment, these former service members often struggle to maintain employment, and the slippery slope to homelessness begins.

I’m deeply saddened when I hear about heroes like Bruce who were in and out of shelters before he finally found an apartment at Plymouth Housing in 2016. Bruce was born and raised in East King County and like his brothers, enlisted in the Army at age 17. After nearly a two-decades long career in the Army, Bruce was forced to take medical retirement and fell into homelessness shortly thereafter.

“A lot of my things were gone in the blink of an eye, because I had no place to put them,” Bruce said. “The hardest thing to realize is: How much am I going to lose when I wind up being homeless?” It breaks my heart to see those who have sacrificed so much be forced to endure even more hardship.

Sadly, Bruce’s story is like many of my fellow service members who came upon hard times after leaving the military. Seeing this happen in my community has strengthened my resolve. Veteran homelessness is unacceptable. We should have no homeless vets in our county, state or country—period. Now, as CEO of Plymouth Housing, I work with partners like King County to prevent as many of these tragedies as possible. You can join us by supporting the renewal of the King County Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy, KC Prop. 1, on our Aug. 1 primary ballot.

Today, Bruce lives at Plymouth’s Simons Seniors Apartments, a building focused on serving seniors where half the units are set aside for veterans. At Plymouth Housing we believe in a world where adults who have been chronically unhoused live with dignity and in homes, and we work every day to achieve that world. Our model of permanent supportive housing—permanent housing coupled with on-site supportive services—has a more than 95% success rate in helping people remain housed long-term. Nearly one in seven Plymouth residents are veterans; many have shared how housing has changed their lives for the better.

Earlier this month, we celebrated the grand opening of Plymouth Crossing in Bellevue. The building will be home to 92 individuals who previously experienced homelessness including seniors, people with disabilities, and veterans. This is only possible thanks to a transformative investment from the King County Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy (VSHSL).

Countywide, the levy has contributed to a 40% decrease in veteran homelessness for neighbors like Bruce. VSHSL has also built 234 units of affordable housing for veterans and their families and helped to build more than 1,000 units of affordable housing and 198 new shelter beds since 2018 alone.

The levy not only supports affordable housing development: It preserves housing, connects people with employment, counseling, and more. Veterans and seniors can access one-stop service centers, job training, financial assistance, housing and supportive services. Plymouth Housing and service providers across our region are counting on the levy renewal.

When I talk about Plymouth Housing in the community, people ask “how can we help?” When people learn that I served in the Army, they often bring up the troubling data on veterans’ homelessness. They ask “how can we help our homeless vets?” Here is your opportunity to do both. By marking “yes” on your ballot, you can join me, Plymouth Housing, King County, and those working tirelessly across our region to end homelessness. You can be a hero to our country’s heroes.

Karen Lee is a U.S. Army veteran and CEO of Plymouth Housing. (Photo courtesy of Plymouth Housing)

Karen Lee is a U.S. Army veteran and CEO of Plymouth Housing. (Photo courtesy of Plymouth Housing)