My team found Kathryn Ann Blair during the One Night Count


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I participated in the annual One Night Count of unsheltered people in King County in the early morning hours of Jan. 25. Hundreds of volunteers participate each year to count and witness. Each year I’ve done the Count I’ve been dispatched with other volunteers to city streets, green spaces, parks and under-passes.

Never had my team or any One Night Count team encountered a dead body. Until this year.

After checking under the south side of the Jose Rizal Bridge and moving behind the industrial buildings at Rainier and Dearborn, we walked south on Rainier. We were bundled up brandishing flashlights and clipboards, chatting bleary-eyed about the news of the day while quietly musing about whether lean-to’s, sleeping bags and camper vans were occupied or not. While walking the south green space encircled by the Rainier Ave. S. off-ramp from Interstate 90, members of my team found a body, partially clothed, that had been there a day or so. We had spread out to check that area and I was closer to Rainier. When the finders came over to join the rest of us none of us quite caught what they said the first time. “We found a body.” What? It’s 3:30 a.m., what did you say? None of us expected to find anyone in that area. It’s relatively open with a few fir trees, but no place to hunker down really.

The team leaders did a great job managing the next steps – calling the police, checking in with the rest of the team members, comforting the woman who first found the body. The team decided to continue on searching our assigned area because, as more than one person said, this is exactly why we count. One Night Count staff arranged to have trained counselors back at the Compass Center for anyone who wanted to talk about what happened.

A couple of days after the Count we learned more from the Medical Examiner. “The Body,” as we had called it, was a 60-year old woman named Kathryn Ann Blair and she died of hypothermia. In the cloverleaf petal of an interstate off-ramp. In February. In Seattle.

I’ve thought a lot about this experience over the past week and a half. I couldn’t help but wonder who Kathryn Ann Blair was and how she got to be where we found her. Everyone has a story. Sometimes the story helps us focus on our similarities and fragility. Sometimes the story helps us make a little bit of sense out of something seemingly senseless. Thanks to the Medical Examiner’s efforts to reach Kathryn Ann Blair’s relatives, members of my Count team received the following message yesterday. It will be shared at today’s Women in Black vigil, noon-1 p.m., on the west plaza of the Municipal Court building (Fifth and James). Women in Black stand Wednesdays to mark the death of homeless people in our area. They have to stand too often and too long.

Eulogy for Kathryn Ann Blair, 1952–2013 

Kathy Blair, a creative only child, spent most of her life in Akron, Ohio, living with her mother.  

While I do not have the skill to tell Kathy’s story as well as she could have, I want you to know that Kathryn Ann Blair had a beautiful face, thick, wavy hair, big brown eyes, lots of personality, many talents, and people who loved her.

Kathy was a talented writer and spent hours working on stories and making whimsical drawings of the characters.   She loved books and enjoyed spending time in libraries and bookstores. Kathy adored cats, keeping three or more at any one time. At age 10, Kathy was chosen for the role of Helen Keller at Akron’s Weathervane Playhouse.  She loved that role and lived to perform in local theatres. After high school, Kathy earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Kent State University.  

Kathy was my closest childhood friend—we walked to school together and spent hours talking on the phone.  However, it was not until 2001 that she told me her father had sexually abused her throughout her childhood.  

Kathy began drinking heavily while still in high school and became dependent on alcohol well before reaching age 30.  Kathy was still a young woman when she began showing signs of mental illness and was eventually diagnosed as having schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  These illnesses plagued Kathy for the rest of her life.

Kathy had no children.  She lived with her mother, Jean Blair, until Jean died several years ago.

After Jean’s death, Kathy continued living in the mobile home they had purchased in 1970.   She found living on her own to be difficult and lonely.   In 2010, Kathy decided to act on her dream of living on the West Coast.  She said goodbye to her friends and cats and traveled to San Francisco, where she briefly lived in her own apartment.  Feeling dissatisfied, Kathy moved to Seattle in 2011, hoping to find happiness and artistic friends.  Instead, she found herself alone and homeless.

Sexual abuse, alcoholism, mental illness and homelessness all contributed to Kathy’s horrible death from hypothermia.  

On January 14, I sent Kathy a final (unanswered) text, “I hope you are warm and safe. Love, Deb.”

My parents, Chet and Alice, my husband, Ken, our daughter, Rebecca, and I, thank each of you for bringing our friend in from the cold and remembering her in this special way.

–D. F. K.

Comments

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Comment from Kathleen Atkins
Time February 6, 2013 at 11:02 am

Thank you for sharing the story of this life and death. I’m grateful to know of Kathryn Ann Blair.

Best,
Kathleen

Comment from Rick Reynolds
Time February 6, 2013 at 11:04 am

Sally, thank you so much for your commitment to this community, and your commitment to homeless and vulnerable people. I was moved by your account, and thankful to know a bit more about Kathy.

Comment from Cheryl Cristello
Time February 6, 2013 at 11:32 am

For an interesting book about local homeless people read “Breakfast at Sally’s” It was written by a local man who was himself homeless in a way that humanizes the homeless. http://www.amazon.com/Breakfast-Sallys-Homeless-Inspirational-Journey/dp/1620871793/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1359752307&sr=1-1&keywords=breakfast+at+sallys

Comment from Bill Bradburd
Time February 6, 2013 at 12:43 pm

It is a shame that the City has chosen to use its bonding capacity and then divert hundreds of millions in tax revenues to support a basketball arena for a handful of billionaire owners.

I hope this experience improves Council’s judgement for future actions for our city.

Comment from melinda giovengo
Time February 6, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Sally thank yuou for sharing Kathy’s story. So many times people are lost in their homlessness and we forget the depth of their lives, their suffering and yes their struggles. Each person has a story. We hear them everyday from the young people we serve and we hope that we can help protect from the nameless destiny of being homless lost forever under an interstate cloverleaf. Each person was a child , each child had a future that was lost.

Thank you Sally for all you do to help so many young people avoid this sad and tradgic ending.

Comment from Tom Johnson
Time February 6, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Thanks for sharing his. Wrenching.

Comment from Frith
Time February 6, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Another sad story that highlights the need for support services for families at every stage. I’m glad that Kathy’s story was shared here and that her friends were able to give us some idea of what her life had been like.

Comment from Barb Wilson
Time February 6, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Tears in my eyes. Thanks for sharing this story.

Comment from Kay Godefroy
Time February 6, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Sally, Thanks for sharing your experience and the message from Kathy’s friend. We all need to remember that she was a person with friends and family. Seattle is more generous to people who find themselves homeless than many places, but we can do better.
Kay

Comment from Janet Thomas
Time February 6, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Thank you for remembering to put the residents of our city first…It amazes me how tragedies like this go unrecognized…think if this was a family member of yours or a friend.We all deserve recognition as part of the village of Seattle…which “strives” to be #1 as a place to live???

Comment from Caroline Eikenberry
Time February 6, 2013 at 7:51 pm

This story is chilling. She could be myself from the description. Our society makes it too easy for people to ignore hard truths that don’t make their lives easier. We are a single serving, disposable, microwavable society. No longer do we care for the entire town. I wish this was on the news outlets, the front page of the paper. She was someone’s daughter and someone’s best friend. Shouldn’t we care for the village not just the house?

Comment from Ann Sakaguchi
Time February 6, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Thank you, Sally, for sharing this and for your compassion.

Comment from Jennifer Ting
Time February 6, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Thank you, Sally, for sharing this story and reminding us all of the humanity and dignity behind every face we encounter on our cold Seattle streets.

Comment from MWMerlino
Time February 7, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Sally,

My girlfriend and I live in Pioneer square. We befriended a woman named kathy from Ohio who stood close to our building asking for change. We havent seen her in about two weeks. Any advice on where to inquire as to whether this is our friend?

Comment from Sally J. Clark
Time February 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Hi –

I might suggest you contact the organizers of the One Night Count – their contact information is here. http://www.homelessinfo.org/contact_us/ I hope your friend is safe.
Jesse Gilliam, Legislative Aide to Sally Clark

Comment from Jeff Lilley
Time February 7, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Sally,
Thank you for taking the time to share Kathy’s story. Too often people like Kathy become just a number, a stat, unless someone takes the time to bring light to their life, and their struggle. You have honored her by your post. There is a quote by Paul Auster: “Stories only happen to those who are able to tell them.” Thank you for telling Kathy’s.

Thank you, too, for your work in this area; from joining in the One Night Count, to coming out to celebrate the Emergency Family Shelter (Mary’s Place/UGM), and all the work you do on the Council.

Comment from Terri Marble
Time February 7, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Kathryn Blair lived at the ywca on 5th and seneca she was a lovely person and she will be missed by all that knew her at the ywca she introduced herself to me one night when i was sitting outside the ywca she went by the name kit. May she rest in piece would be nice if you could post a picturee of her if possible

Comment from George Bakan
Time February 7, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Yes, it is important to know the story and understand the real life script of this human being. I applaud that. On the other hand, why does anyone freeze to death in this fine city. Bitter cold out, prolonged for days, below freezing temp, I stayed inside for days, despite layers to avoid prolonged chills. Could more outreach, more warm places open and accepting and advertised all over, could we have saved this life? I cannot say for certain, but feel we must ask the difficult and wrenching question. xoxoxo GB.

Comment from Social Worker
Time February 12, 2013 at 4:01 pm

I worked with her, she was a very sweet lady and we had a lot of awesome conversations in our time together. I will miss seeing her kind face in the community.

Comment from Andrea Owner
Time February 13, 2013 at 11:01 am

Sally,
This took my breath away. I appeciate you taking the time to share it and providing witness to the struggle of living on the street. Thank you for your work in supporting housing for homeless. I’m sad in a community of wealth their is not enough to provide the basic needs, or often it comes with judgement. We can do more; we need to do more.

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