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Welcome Home co-op members find purpose, share stories

November 19, 2018

Welcome Home Community Co-op members Jeffery Hill (left) and Keven Anderson are seeking solutions to the local homeless problem in Skagit County. The two men have experienced homelessness.

MOUNT VERNON — Keven Anderson and Jeffery Hill once seemed to have everything going their way.

Then job setbacks — and in Hill’s case the death of his mother — led the two to homelessness.

Fast forward to today, and the men have found a purpose as leaders of the Welcome Home Community Co-op, an organization formed to find solutions to homelessness.

The co-op, which is based out of the Mount Vernon Seventh-Day Adventist Church, is led by many who are homeless or have experienced homelessness.

Here are the stories of Anderson and Hill.

Keven Anderson, 50, of Arlington

Anderson was one of those kids who breezed through school.

At 5, he was reading himself bedtime stories, and as a first-grader he could handle the same books as a fourth-grader.

“Sending me to my room wasn’t a punishment because I’d just be in there reading,” Anderson recalled.

As the years went on, Anderson continued to excel in school, and in 2005 he graduated from Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science.

Anderson’s father, Robert Anderson, said his son was happy to graduate, but that happiness was replaced by frustration when it came to looking for a job.

Potential employers told Keven Anderson he needed additional training, but he said his $40,000 of student loan debt shot that option down.

Coming up against wall after wall, Anderson eventually took a job as an assistant manager of a Popeyes restaurant in Sequim.

“He tried to make something of himself and ended up with what?” Robert Anderson said.

Although Keven Anderson said he enjoyed working in Sequim, landlord issues forced him to relocate to a Popeyes in Bellingham. That restaurant closed a few months later.

After doing various jobs while living out of his car, he said he took a job as a janitor at Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham and later at Cascade Mall in Burlington.

Those jobs brought in enough income for Anderson to get an apartment in Bellingham.

Things were going well until he said Cascade Mall cut his hours down to 20 a week. To make ends meet, he allowed his car to be repossessed, which kept him afloat for five more months.

Then the mall cut his hours again.

“I was spending more time on the County Connector than actually working,” Anderson said of his bus commute.

After losing his apartment, Anderson said he lived in a few places, including Friendship House in Mount Vernon, as he transitioned to a third cleaning job.

It was during this time Anderson was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea.

“Most people have five to 10 sleep disturbances each hour,” he said. “I have more than 60.”

The severity of Anderson’s condition qualified him for a sleep apnea machine, but not the machine’s portable battery, which was deemed a luxury item by his insurance company. The battery wasn’t a luxury to Anderson, who had no reliable access to electricity while living out of his second vehicle.

“I never got the machine,” he said. “I’m constantly tired.”

In 2017, Anderson lost his job again.

“Some people might say, ‘You got your computer science degree — do something with that.’ But that was over a decade ago,” he said. “That’s a lifetime in the tech world, and I can’t go back to school because I haven’t paid off my student loans.”

While Anderson didn’t know it at the time, moving back to Skagit County would give him a renewed sense of purpose.

His monthlong stay last winter at the cold weather shelter at the Mount Vernon Seventh-Day Adventist Church introduced him to people who would become both his fellow Welcome Home Community Co-op leaders and his second family.

Anderson said his ultimate goal in working with the co-op is to create a self-governing homeless community.

“I hope to help others get out of the same situation (I’ve been in) and continue our work of changing the public’s perception of what homelessness is,” he said.

Anderson’s father couldn’t be prouder.

“Sometimes you have to go through a lot of stuff in order to help people,” Robert Anderson said. “Right now, (Keven) is probably the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time.

Jeffery Hill, 55, of Springfield, Mass.

In the early 1990s, Hill had it made.

With a paycheck of $1,000 a week, the Springfield native was bringing in more money with his two steady jobs than any of his 10 brothers or sisters.

Hill was comfortable, but more than that, he said he was happy.

Then in 1995 Hill’s mom was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Before she died, she asked Hill to pay her bills and her mortgage because he was the only one of her children who could.

“It would be a burden, but I did it,” Hill said. “Sometimes you just have to do what your mom tells you. I learned to be a good son.”

His mother’s death took a financial and emotional toll on Hill.

“(My mom) was the backbone of my love,” he said. “She was the sweetest mom you could ever meet.”

Hill said he turned to alcohol after his mom’s death, nearly drinking himself to death.

He said his grief kept him from working, and in 1998, he moved to Florida after quitting his two jobs.

In Florida, Hill said he weathered five hurricanes in five years, each time losing everything and picking up where he left off.

Through it all, Hill said his faith kept him going.

“God said it wasn’t my time to go,” he said.

After five years of surviving storms and doing carpentry, framework and cement work while living in an RV, Hill moved to Seattle.

Hill spent the next nine years bouncing from shelters to friends’ houses and back to shelters.

He said he saw his fair share of violence in the form of gunshots, robberies and fights. As a shelter security guard, he was the one to pull men off each other when they got into brawls.

But despite the hardships, Hill maintained his strong faith, and in 2013, he was taken in by Bread of Life Mission in Seattle.

While there, Hill started taking Bible classes and enrolled in the organization’s drug and alcohol recovery program. Twelve months later, he graduated from the program with honors.

“I’d never graduated from a place like that before,” Hill said. “It’s good to know I have the program behind me.”

Riding that wave of accomplishment, Hill said he decided he was ready for another move.

La Conner became his base for the next three years, and after that, Mount Vernon. There, he came across the cold weather shelter at the Mount Vernon Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and in turn he found a home with the Welcome Home crew.

Today, Hill is rediscovering his talents with his fellow co-op leaders and those they serve.

“Not many people knew my singing ability, but now they do,” Hill said with a smile. “My next song is gonna be about pretty blue eyes.”

In addition to singing R&B, rap and gospel, Hill said he likes playing basketball and cooking chicken in the church’s kitchen.

“God has me doing big things,” Hill said. “What He’s got me doing now is He got me singing. He got me going to church.”

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