A Washington State Trooper helps a Homeless Family

LimboMurray Duncan and his fiancée, Alyssa Dunn, thought they had their lives planned out when they moved here from Delaware last month. Dunn had a job lined up as a gate agent at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and the couple had enough savings to live with their 6-month-old son in a hotel for about a month while they looked for an apartment. But after the transmission on their Hyundai Elantra blew out during the drive to Washington State, the couple found themselves broke and weeks away from Dunn’s first paycheck. After finding a Redmond church that offered overnight shelter, they decided to make an Interstate 5 rest area their home during the day, getting by on a patchwork of other social services. It’s not uncommon for the region’s homeless residents to spend their days at highway rest areas, although state law limits visits to eight hours at a time, according to the Washington State Patrol. Trooper Stephanie Bjorkman was tracking down witnesses for an investigation at the Sea Tac Rest Area along the freeway near Federal Way late last month when she encountered Duncan, 23, and his baby — new faces among the regulars. She decided to help the young family. “I see people who are in this permanent limbo phase because they’re not doing what they should be doing,” Bjorkman said. “(Duncan and Dunn) are in this limbo, but they’re trying to get out.” Bjorkman has helped the family get food, water and baby formula. She’s also provided Duncan and Dunn, 24, with information about free activity programs for kids so they can get the boy out of the car. Various churches and the Salvation Army provide the family with dinner Monday through Friday, but they have to find their own food on the weekends, so Bjorkman has been giving them restaurant gift cards. Bjorkman said once the family has proof of income with Dunn’s first paycheck in the coming days, they will be eligible for more state resources. But until then, Bjorkman has been taking it upon herself to help the family get food, water and baby formula. “Words can’t even explain,” Duncan said of Bjorkman’s help. “She’s definitely looked out for us, and we can’t thank her enough.” Troopers are regularly called out to direct homeless people away from rest areas, though the homeless often return later. Bjorkman said she sees both sides of the issue. “DOT wants their rules enforced, but oftentimes (homeless people) have nowhere else to go,” she said. For now, Bjorkman continues to check in on the family, providing help when she can. Dunn said she and Duncan were recently accepted into the state’s Diversion Cash Assistance program, which will provide them with temporary aid for housing once they sign an apartment lease. The couple recently found an apartment, and they’re waiting to hear when they can move in. Duncan plans to start working once they get established. In February, King County Executive Dow Constantine and other regional leaders and homeless advocates announced $17 million in county funding for new, affordable housing units and emergency shelter in the county, some of it aimed specifically at South and East King County. A count last year put Washington’s homeless population at 19,418, with King County accounting for 52percent of the total. Dunn said she wishes there were more transitional homes in the area for people who already have jobs. She described one shelter the family stayed in as being infested with bedbugs. Bjorkman said providing the family with assistance has been a great counterbalance to the type of work she usually deals with as a trooper. “You’re never sure how they’re going to react,” Bjorkman said. “From what they’ve told me and what I’ve seen, I feel like it’s going to help them move out of this period.” She said troopers often help the homeless in smaller ways, recalling a former colleague whose wife would make extra sandwiches for him to give to those in need. “That’s sort of the way a lot of these troopers are,” said State Patrol spokesman Chris Webb. “They do these things and you don’t find out about it — sometimes until six months later.”

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