Tiffany's "home". She Sleeps in the driver's seat while her fiance sleeps in the back.

Homeless in the Time of COVID-19

Reading Time: 3 minutes Reading Time: 3 minutes

For the first time in a year and five months, Tiffany Holien has a bed to sleep in and a private bathroom. She’s not sleeping upright in her truck or on a mat at the cold weather shelter, just feet from someone else, without access to a shower and with no privacy.

Tiffany lost her housing in November 2018, less than two months after she lost her mother to heart disease. With just her own income, she was no longer able to pay rent and began living in her truck with her cat. Ever since then, she’s been homeless.

But almost two weeks ago, an opportunity for housing opened up, even if it’s only temporary. Tiffany now has a motel room. She can finally sleep lying down. It’s one bright spot during a global outbreak that has killed tens of thousands.

“If I was living in my truck, I’d probably already be gone,” Tiffany said. “Because I’d be around other people all the time.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, grant funds from the state Department of Commerce is enabling Skagit County to pay for motel vouchers for people experiencing homelessness who are a high risk of complications from COVID-19, including those over age 60, and those with underlying health conditions. Tiffany, at age 39, falls into the second category.

In fact, she was just in the hospital in mid-March. Tiffany’s fiancé, who lived with her in her truck, took her to the ER when she became ill to the point of deliriousness. It wasn’t COVID-19, it was pneumonia. And while she’s on her way to recovery, some days just walking about her room is difficult.

“I know that my immune system just got beat to hell. Staying in the motel, I don’t have to worry about that as much. In my truck, the basic foot traffic downtown could take me out. All it takes is one person walking by me coughing and I’m doomed, she said.

Currently, Tiffany and her fiancé are leaving their motel room only for necessities, such as grocery shopping or going to the food bank. Tiffany knows that she has this motel room only because of the outbreak. Even with an influx of state and federal money, there’s only enough funds to cover about 50 motel rooms through April. The need far exceeds this capacity. There are dozens of Skagit County residents left outside in the cold with no ability to “Stay Home, Stay Healthy.”

“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “It’s great that we’re being put into motel rooms so we have a place to sleep and stay warm and everything, but it’s a bitter pill to take that it takes people dying to get this for us. While we’re appreciative of this, we also feel guilty because we’re getting something at the cost of other people’s lives. We watch the news and we feel relief, yet are bothered that people are dying in order to get us these motel rooms.”


Those of us with a roof over our head, well, we might feel frustrated about being told not to leave our home except for essential activities. We’re just so bored! And it’s spring and we want to go out and have fun! But we have to remember there are people, like Tiffany, who are grateful to have a small room they can’t leave, a warm bed to sleep in, and a sink to frequently their wash hands. Because it wasn’t that long ago that she didn’t have these things, and she knows that, for her, it’s only temporary. And then she’ll be back to living in her truck, wishing she had a home to be safe in.

Want to Help?

If you are in a position to help others in dire housing situations, considering donating to: