For his final years, a roof over Billy’s head in Bremerton

Billy Langham
Billy Langham

When William Langham finally got a roof over his head, it took time for him to adjust to it.

Having lived in the woods of Illahee Preserve for 10 years, the tall ceilings were simply too high for Langham, who propped his tent inside his South Court Apartment, a kind of reverse claustrophobia.

“He had been hiding away in a tent in the woods for such a long time, he wasn’t sure about taking the first step,” said MaryAnn Smith, a social worker with Taking it to the Streets Ministry.

But adjust he would, and for the final eight years of his life, Langham had greater security and a restored dignity, those who knew him say.

“He kept his apartment in very good condition,” Smith said. “He valued what he had … I was so proud of Billy, when I moved, he stepped up and paid his own bills and kept his cable and power on.”

His life was not perfect. That he was found in his apartment a few weeks after he had died speaks to a certain loneliness, some who knew him say. His penchant for Hurricane beverages fed his alcoholism.

Pancreatic cancer ultimately took the 52-year-old’s life.

But Billy, as he was known, was charming and quite skilled. He was a gentleman who could play guitar and  fix anything, according to neighbors Judith Holden and Corinna Maroney.

“He was a very genuine man,” Maroney said.

“He had so many skills, talents and abilities,” said Beverly Kincaid, a grant writer. “The fact he didn’t have a roof over his head did not define him.”

Kincaid took a chance on Billy. She had met him while doing a project, finding Billy in his tent in the woods of East Bremerton.

Kincaid took it upon herself to arrange Billy’s services, held recently at the Salvation Army he frequented for meals and social nourishment. She got in touch with his family and paid more than $200 to have an obituary placed in the Kitsap Sun.

If Kincaid made sure he had dignity in death, Smith ensured it in his life. After all those years  in the woods, she fought to get him disability benefits that finally put a roof over his head.

It’s easy to think the homeless might just want to live in the woods. But that’s an often faulty assumption, homeless advocates say. His quality of life was much better inside a home.

“I could tell by the way that Billy talked, that he was tired of being in the woods, wondering where his next meal was or where to go,” Smith said. “I believe that the homeless need a place to call home, not just another tent.”

There’s growing research that society is better off financially by assigning a case worker and a room to anyone on the street, then to react to them when crises emerge. Utah is leading an effort to end homelessness using this strategy.

“From our experience, once basic necessities like housing are met, then we can start addressing other barriers in their life,” said Kurt Wiest, executive director of Bremerton Housing Authority. “The vast majority of those without housing would thrive if given that place that is their own.”

We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, many of the homeless in the woods around Kitsap will continue doing so, just as Langham did for a decade.

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