Every gas station has a line out to the street; Costco is a madhouse; I feel lucky to have bought the one remaining baguette at a neighborhood bakery; store shelves for staples — milk, eggs — are nearly empty; there is no rock salt to be found in the city and even table salt is gone. Armageddon? No, Seattle is preparing for snow.
Normally, we Yakimanians give Seattlelites a hard time because at the appearance of the first measly snow flake panic ensues; but on this occasion, they — we — were really in for it. Yes, I was there, and this time the weathermen and women were spot on. They said snow would start to fly Friday at 1 p.m. in the Emerald City and several tentative light snowflakes started fluttering down around 12:30. By one o’clock the streets were covered, and I was still trying to find shelter at a friend’s apartment on the top of Queen Anne hill.
It seemed that standards for normal activity had been suspended: people were walking in the streets, cars were spinning, or stopping for no reason, or not stopping when they should have. Buses were late or simply parked beside the roadways. Finally, I managed to negotiate a way to my target location: I tucked into the parking garage, and settled in for a long winter’s night while the snow piled up on the patio.
Before dinner Jackson and I ventured out for a “walk” — I use this term loosely since the snow level was higher than he is. He bounced up and down along unshoveled sidewalks — visible, invisible — and was thrilled by the whole experience. A couple cross-country skiers whooshed past us down 5th Avenue. The top of Queen Anne Avenue was barricaded by the police — it had become a suicide slope for tobogganers. We passed one true-blue Pacific Northwest resident jauntily walking his dog through the drifts, in shorts!
100-year snow dump
My mother was born in Seattle and my grandparents lived in a stately two-story house on Beacon Hill with a porch looking out over Lake Washington to the Cascades. We often traversed those mountains from our desert town to visit; and sometimes, in the winter, we took the train from the classically old-fashioned Yakima train station to Seattle’s King Street Station just below Chinatown (now the International District). The train chugged through the Ellensburg Canyon and as a kid I remember often it had to stop while snow was removed from the tracks. On the curves we could see the engine steaming ahead and pulling us into the snowy landscape.
I tell you this to demonstrate that I have a history with Seattle and its weather. I’m used to mossy sidewalks and grey skies, but waking up in Seattle on Saturday, Feb. 9, I’d never seen so much snow. In one day, the city got 10 inches, more than any other snow-dump in Seattle in February since 1949, and more snow than it generally receives in a year.
It was — as I’m sure by now you’ve seen and heard — a region-wide Snow Carnival. Indoor events were cancelled, and everybody who was able was outside. Every side street had kids out sledding. In front yards, families were making snowmen or snow angels. In Tacoma, someone suggested on Facebook a rendezvous at Wright Park for a snowball fight, and a couple hundred folks showed up. A friend of mine, a transplanted Canadian acquainted with snow, commented on all the skiers out and ‘aboot’ — “I love this city!”
Well, I love Seattle too, but not enough to be snowbound there for a week. There was a slight let-up in falling flakes Saturday afternoon and more snow predicted for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday; so I hightailed it out of town and, after a harrowing escape, back to the beach. Getting off the hill was a matter of figuring out and using bus routes, as those were the only cleared streets in the city. Once out of town, I headed down I-5 all the way to Longview and circled back on Highway 30 to get home — the normal route through Montesano was virtually impassable. In a wonderful gesture of welcome, the sun came out as I drove over Megler Bridge.
Our lack of housing
Getting home and building a fire to sit in front of was also a welcome reward for my weekend adventure. But it brought to my mind a topic I’ve raised before. What can be done about our lack of housing options on the Peninsula? A cold winter day can only be savored if one has proper shelter.
Lucy Dupree, human resources director for Willapa Behavioral Health (WBH), can attest to the challenges of our housing situation, even for folks who have the means. “The housing problem affects WBH in two ways. First, so many of our clients can’t find a place to live. So a lot of our case managers get involved in trying to help them. Then, on the employment side, it’s really frustrating because even when I hire a good therapist they can’t find a place either. I just lost a professional with kids because he looked for a month and couldn’t find a home to rent. Usually new hires aren’t ready to buy anything — or even if they are, they need a short-term rental in the interim and they can’t find one. These are people with good salaries, so it’s not a cost issue. It was even a problem when I worked in Astoria — I once hired an RN and I found out she was living in a campground, so it’s not much different across the river either.” WBH employs 66 people and is growing; but housing is definitely a bottleneck.
The other side of the housing gap is that it goes hand-in-hand with poverty. “We have failed to fully appreciate how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty,” writes Matthew Desmond in “Eviction, Poverty and Profit in the American City” (Penguin Random House, 2017). According to recent economic findings, there is no fair market two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S. that a family with only one full-time minimum-wage earner can afford.
Our local Joint Pacific County Housing Authority (JPCHA) has been collecting housing data and working on this issue since 2004. In Pacific County the median household income is $38,400, while the Washington state median is $62,800. Specific municipalities have even lower figures: median household income in Long Beach is $26,800. On top of that, our Peninsula has more veterans, elders, folks with disabilities, and single-parent families with children than any of the surrounding areas. These families and individuals have trouble funding and finding affordable housing — the rental vacancy rate on the north end of the Peninsula is virtually zero. Meanwhile, VRBO and Airbnb rates have increased dramatically: 25 percent in Ilwaco; 78 percent in Long Beach; and 93 percent in Ocean Park — meaning that above-grade housing is being taken out of the rental market.
It’s been kind of fun that this year’s February has turned Seattle — and the beach — into a temporary winter wonderland, but only because I have a cozy home to retreat to. Unfortunately, there won’t be a quick fix for the housing problem in our community. If you want more information or you’d like to get involved in the effort: email@example.com.