Seattle's rainy winter months always require a break from roofing, but things typically ramp back up in the early Spring. This year was different. "When work didn't happen and didn't happen and didn't happen, we got scared," Emma recalls. Wilkins was finally called back to work in May, just as they reached into the last of their savings.
A few weeks passed worry-free before tragedy launched a new phase of hardship. One Saturday afternoon, Wilkins was installing a window for a friend in Section 8 housing when he slipped, his arm crashing through the glass. The accident severed an artery, his ulnar nerve, and two tendons. Four hours of surgery reconnected it all, though he may never regain full use of his arm.
To compound the depth of this misfortune, Wilkins's injury occurred just three weeks after he had returned to work. Since it takes thirty days of employment to resume benefits, he had no health insurance. After the state picked up a portion of the medical bills, Emma estimates about $12,000 in debt remains.
Whether $12,000 or $120,000, the prospect of such debt held little meaning because they didn't even have enough money for rent. Wilkins couldn't tie his own shoes without help, but he could keep an eye on one-year-old Elizabeth. "I hit the pavement immediately," Emma says.
She had worked in social services outreach for six years until funding cuts ended her program in late 2007. Even though that comprised the bulk of her professional experience, Emma created six different resumes, each fine-tuned for various fields. "There are so many people unemployed in Seattle, you probably need a resume just to pull coffee. I was so despondent for awhile because I was even getting turned down for waitressing jobs."
The landlord wouldn't wait for Emma to find a new stream of income and evicted the family in June. Their last bit of money secured two weeks at a filthy motel in Aurora, an area notorious for pervasive crime, drugs, and prostitution. In better days Emma had worked as a volunteer distributing condoms, toiletries, and informational brochures to hookers and homeless populating the strip, never imagining she would one day end up living among them. "I felt utterly defeated," she recalls.
Faced with a frighteningly imminent prospect of living in the car with their daughter, Emma refused to surrender herself to defeat. Online research and many phonecalls secured assistance from a local non-profit, Solid Ground, which currently provides shelter for the family in one of its transitional housing units. It's not a luxurious apartment, but it's clean, safe, and for the moment, it's home.
In September, Emma finally landed a job--amazingly in her chosen field of social services. It didn't even matter the organization only had a temporary spot available. Maybe this marked the beginning of a change in fortune. Maybe they could finally get their life back, she thought.