Gov. Inslee meets with homeless local teen

Gov. Jay Inslee chats with Kaitlyn Toomey and her mother Candy at Haller Middle School on April 4. - Kirk Boxleitner
Gov. Jay Inslee chats with Kaitlyn Toomey and her mother Candy at Haller Middle School on April 4.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — When Gov. Jay Inslee visited Arlington earlier in the month to join the community in mourning for those who had been lost to the Oso mudslide, he met Arlington High School senior Kaitlyn Toomey, who asked him a question that was relevant not only to those who had been displaced by the slide, but also to her own circumstances.

“I asked him what he planned on doing to help the homeless,” said Kaitlyn Toomey, who has found herself facing extended stretches of homelessness throughout the past seven years.

Inslee explained that he was set to sign a bill that would retain a $40 fee on real estate sales, to pay for homelessness prevention in Washington state, but he invited Kaitlyn and her mother, Candy Toomey, to contact him later to schedule a meeting.

“He actually wanted to have his picture taken with us, rather than just the other way around,” Candy Toomey said. “He even greeted us by saying, ‘Hi, I’m Jay, and you are?’ He didn’t introduce himself as the Governor.”

While the Toomeys have yet to schedule a second meeting with Inslee, their first meeting felt to them like a measure of how far they’d come, even as they continue to face adversity.

“We’re not living in a van anymore,” Candy Toomey said. “We received a donation of a 1996 Dodge Caravan travel trailer. It’s 31 feet long, and it doesn’t have running water or plumbing, but it does have electricity and Wi-Fi.”

Although friends and relatives have been able to offer them temporary accommodations over the years, Candy’s disability from injuring her back while working at a nursing home has severely limited her employment options. She and Kaitlyn have lived at 14 different locations within the past seven years, but Kaitlyn has managed to stay enrolled in the Arlington School District and maintain a 2.6 GPA, putting her on track to graduate on time if she can complete her senior project.

Kaitlyn Toomey has even found considerable time to volunteer for various charities and other community causes, from church projects to Girl Scout campaigns.

“I set up the chairs at Haller Middle School for the community vigil that the Governor attended,” Kaitlyn Toomey said. “I’ve also been in Future Farmers of America for the past three years, the last two of which I’ve been an officer.”

With her high school career approaching its close, Kaitlyn is interested in attending Whatcom Community College for “something in the medical field, but not too gross,” while Candy holds her daughter up as an example of how reductively unfair stereotypes about the homeless can be.

“People think you’re lazy, or on drugs or alcohol, or mentally ill,” Candy Toomey said. “They don’t consider how the economy going bad can hit someone who’s already on disability and can’t get into low-income housing.”

Kaitlyn felt much less stressed after she came out as homeless to her classmates.

“You just learn to go with the flow,” said Kaitlyn Toomey, who doesn’t even consider her charity work to be all that remarkable. “Those who don’t have much usually choose to give more of what they have than those who have a lot.”

“We know that God ultimately has a plan for us,” Candy Toomey said. “He just hasn’t let us in on it yet.”

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