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caption: Robert Loomis lived in his vehicle (not pictured) for several years in Seattle.
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Robert Loomis lived in his vehicle (not pictured) for several years in Seattle.
Credit: Flickr Photo/A. Kwanten (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/

I lived in my car in Ballard for three years

Robert Loomis had a good job and had just signed a mortgage on a new home then he started having chest pains. This is his story.

I’m lying on the table and the doctor comes out and says, "Robert you're going to need six-way heart bypass surgery."

And I said, “Well I need to get my house in order and do all this stuff.” And he says, “No, no, no. I can't let you leave the hospital.”

That next morning, they operated on me. That operation cost $480,000. It was more than I could handle.

One day, I just had no money and no rent and all I had was my car. So I got in my car and came to Ballard and parked it at 22nd and 62nd for three years.

One night, a man came up to my car with a camera. I could hear him talking. I thought it was a parking enforcement person, but then I sat up, and he goes, “Oh yeah, loser. Wake up. All you losers out here who don’t do anything.”

Meanwhile he's got a video camera and he's videotaping me. And he goes, “Hey you know what? Now with our new president, you're going to have to get off your ass and start working and making a difference. Yeah, that's right. Loser, look at me.”

I'm leaving out all the cuss words and all the other stuff he called me. I'd never been subject to that in my life. I've always been Robert, the guy, the man. I went to my church, and I cried on my priest's shoulder.

Growing up, I always heard you pick yourself up by your bootstraps. But what do you do if you reach down and there's no laces left? Your heart — that's one lace gone. Debt — there’s another. So that’s what I would have told the man if I could have.

You know, that happened to me twice, where neighborhood people would come by and just really make you feel like dirt. The second time, I did have a conversation with the man. He wanted me to move my car because I was parking in a different space, and I go, “Sir, I'm not doing anything. I'm just right here. And by law I can be here for 72 hours and you won't have any trouble with me.”

The second guy leaned in and looked in my car and saw all the stuff that you have when you're homeless. You can’t always take your trash out, you don't have everything all neat and buttoned up. There were medications that had fallen out of my pocket in my car. It wasn't the neatest place in the world, but try living in a shoe box for three years and it's not going to be all that pretty.

I didn’t want to stay in a shelter. One of the guys who volunteers with me, who is currently homeless, he calls it being in a prison dorm. They have so many rules and regulations. I went to the Bread of Life and I was really disappointed. They wouldn’t let you get to the food line until you sat there and listened to the chapel service.

They had these big flat screen TVs that they show NBA games on that show commercials of Bud Light and Budweiser and Crown Royal. And I'm like, a large portion of the people sitting in here, you're making them awfully thirsty.

In the shower, you stand there in your skivvies and your towel and you wait your turn. I only stayed there three nights. The second night I was there, I looked down and three of the people before me had ankle bracelets for monitoring.

You have to be out of there no later than 6:30 every morning. It's pouring down rain. Where do you go? The library is closed. You try going to Starbucks; they say get out. You're not buying anything. If you have a job, maybe it opens at 8:30. So what do you do?

That's what I mean by rules and regulations — not making your bed every day. That doesn't bother me. I do that anyway. So I said I'd rather live in my car.

The hardest part of being homeless was trying to keep up hope. There were times I wanted to kill myself literally because I didn't want to be known like this. It's not what I dreamed of in my life. I always wanted to be successful and prove to people that I was worth something, so that's what kept me going.

I have an apartment now. I got a federal housing voucher. It's lovely.

When I first got it, I had to retrain myself. I would forget that I'd moved into my apartment when I went to sleep at night. In my car, the one thing I hated was if I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night — I would hold it as long as I could. It took me a week or so to remind myself when I woke up that the bathroom is right next door.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Update June 28, 2017: We originally aired this story March 23, 2017. We reached out to Loomis before r-airing his story today to see where he was at. He told us his health is better (he lost 20 pounds!) and he now volunteers at St. Luke's, where he received assistance while he was homeless.