The water was up to her neck when Samone Caples walked into the floods of Hurricane Katrina. Her two oldest children, then 11 and 12, were already a bit taller than the tiny Caples and walked out beside her.
Her three- and four-year-olds made the trip standing upright in a plastic trash barrel. Caples had put them in the barrel to float them out, at times resting the bottom of the barrel on her large, round stomach. The Kenner mother was very pregnant.
Today, after two years of shelters, a fetid stay at the Astrodome, and a relocation to Seattle, Samone Caples and her family are no better off than the day they stepped into the water. After being evicted from an apartment in May, now they are simply homeless.
This is not how it's turned out for all of the 1,890 hurricane evacuees that the Federal Emergency Management Agency says came to Washington state after the flood. With federal and local aid, many have found stable housing. But the combination of Samone Caples' inability to read and her family's size have conspired against a woman who says she's felt lost from the day she got off the bus in Seattle.
That was last fall, when the Red Cross in Baton Rouge put Caples, 29, on a bus to Seattle, where she was told she would get permanent housing through the YWCA. She'd already lived in and out of the Baton Rouge shelter for a year -- the roof on her duplex apartment in Kenner, a suburb of New Orleans, had caved in. In between stays, she'd gone to Texas to find her four children, who'd been put on another bus when they were evacuated from New Orleans.
Her two oldest, it turned out, had ended up at their father's house in Texas. The two youngest were at the Houston Astrodome, where she stayed with them until the facility closed its doors.
"They put us out the Astrodome with really nowhere to go," Caples says. "FEMA gave us $2,000, Red Cross gave us $1,500, and after they gave us the money, they told us we'd have to find somewhere to live."
But Caples and her children had lost everything and had nowhere to go. After a brief stint back at the shelter in Baton Rouge, she and three of her children -- her 13-year-old boy remains in Texas -- got on a bus bound for Seattle. But, with no one there to greet them on arrival, Caples and her kids spent their first two nights at a YWCA shelter.
Caples then turned to the Salvation Army and its Katrina Aid Today program, which put her up in motels before locating a one-bedroom apartment in Burien. In November, the Department of Health and Social Services provided a deposit and the first month's rent of $555, with the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle picking up the next two months and Goodwill paying through April.
But, in April, with four children living in a one-bedroom apartment -- her fourth was born in Seattle -- the Vintage Park Apartments told her there were too many people living in the apartment and that she would have to go.
After she moved out, she got a nearly $3,500 bill for everything but replacing the kitchen sink. Vintage Park management says Caples skipped out on May's rent, but Margaret Metzgar, supervisor of the Salvation Army's Katrina Aid Today program, says Caples' rent was paid, and the landlord refuses to discuss the rest of the charges.
In the meantime, the bill, which has been turned over to collections, is keeping other landlords from renting to Caples, who's back at the YWCA shelter. Because her DSHS caseworker in Burien lost track of her, Caples says she only got half of her food stamps and welfare grant for August -- $420 instead of $840.
She also says her caseworker has given her until the start of the school year to get an address or the state will take her children -- something a DSHS spokesperson denies.
"Before I let anybody take my kids away from me," Caples says, "it'll be hell and high water trying to get them. So they might as well put their little Amber Alert out."
She was entitled to a FEMA housing voucher, but didn't get it, Metzgar says, because she failed to respond to FEMA paperwork -- Caples couldn't read it and simply put it in a box. Metzgar has since reapplied to FEMA and is also trying to get Caples six months of rent through the Salvation Army's Homeless Financial Assistance program.
The hitch, Metzgar says, is that to get the HFA funding, Caples has to have a plan for paying her rent after the six months are up -- something that doesn't look good for a high-school drop-out with four children and an eviction.
"It's not easy in this city finding affordable housing, especially for large families," Metzgar says. "It's been a major effort."
In the meantime, Caples waits -- and fights back tears when talking about the great unknown of her life.
"If I was at home, ain't no way in the world it would have took me this long, 'cause I'd know what to do [and] where to go to get anything," she says.
"It's hard living like this," she says. "Everything happens for a reason, and I think God was trying to tell us something, but it was told in the wrong way -- he could have left all that water where it was."