Photo courtesy of Barb Hunter
Bouck last summer in Queen Anne.

Friend sheds light on homeless man’s death

After a night in the cold Jeff Bouck, 48, was found dead under the Ballard Bridge during the early morning hours of Feb. 4.

Since his passing there has been new information that’s surfaced leading up to his death and the community programs that he attempted to use that ultimately failed in finding his exit from homelessness.

Barb Hunter has lived in Ballard for two years and has recently retired after being vice president of technology for Allrecipes.com. She plays bass in the band, Gibraltar. She was a friend of Bouck’s since last April. They met at the Ballard locks where she would go to watch the herons.

“We went out to lunch (he would always try to pay for my lunch, and occasionally I would let him). We'd go out and have a couple beers,” wrote Hunter in a Facebook post. “We talked about our families and our adventures. We talked about what we wanted in the future. We cracked each other up. Jeff called me on my birthday. Jeff bought me lunch on Christmas day when I was having a [hard] time. The only difference between Jeff and a ‘normal’ friend was that he slept outside.”

Like any friend, Bouck confided in Hunter and told her about his family, his history working in the fishing industry and how he was struggling to find relief from an acute case of scabies and alcohol addiction.

“He was just looking for a way out. He was desperately seeking treatment for his scabies and was having delirium tremors from alcohol withdrawal, “ said Hunter.

According to Hunter, Bouck wanted to get off the street long enough to treat his scabies and find treatment for alcohol. He was trying to find a respite program or admittance to a hospital.

“I think that he felt like if he could get admitted to a hospital he could make it. He said he was going to try anything he could to get into Harbor View.”

In order to be admitted to a respite program individuals need a physician’s referral. Hunter said Bouck went to the Ballard Homeless Clinic and received medication for his scabies and was referred. He told Hunter he was added to a waiting list for a respite program, and was also able to find assistance from The Reach Program – an umbrella entity of Evergreen Treatment Services. Hunter said Bouck was able to get a room at the Everspring Inn on Aurora. However, his stay was only for a week, and Bouck was having trouble with his medicine and with alcohol withdrawal. The week was not long enough for Bouck to make a full recovery.

“He said the cream was too painful to put on. He needed the medicine but he also needed clean clothes and a
place to bath during the treatment which is a piece of cake for people with homes.”

Bouck found himself back on the street and hopeless.

“He was scared. He went from being energized and really wanting to get better, to feeling scared and in a losing battle. He said he didn’t want to die.”

Hunter said that ten days later she found out Bouck had passed.

“He really was trying to get help, and I think the system failed him. All of our social services are overwhelmed but if more programs like the respite program were more available I think he would be here today.”

Admittance into respite programs like the 1811 East Lake Project can take a few weeks and is based on referrals, emergency room visits, arrests and other factors.

Hunter is not alone in thinking the system failed.

“These are complicated situations even with good programs in place. The fact of the matter is people needing and wanting help even when things are working well don’t get always get it,” said Alison Eisinger, Executive Director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.

Despite a 14 percent increase in homelessness found in the annual One Night Count, Mark Putnam, Director of Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, said that the programs in place are working.

“We are actively working as we have through the Ten Year Plan at reviewing what’s working and what’s not and continuing to do more of what’s working. Despite the significant economic downturn we are seeing progress in homelessness,” said Putman.

According to Putman, Seattle ranks third behind New York and Los Angeles in providing housing for the homeless. Moreover, Housing First programs housed 80 individuals in its first year and saved taxpayers $4 million by reducing emergency room visits and arrests. Furthermore, according to a report released December of 2012, the City has reached 57 percent of their goal, funding 5,424 new units of housing. They reported helping more than 34,000 people exit homelessness since starting, and offered a range of homeless prevention services to another 23,000 people.

Putman said that the plan’s strategy to end homelessness by 2014 aims at gauging the problem, bringing down the average number of days people are homeless (130 days) and looking at how many people who receive support return to the streets. Currently, the City has found that after two years, 15 percent of people provided with support returned to homelessness.

However, Putman said that a major problem facing people is affordable housing, despite the City’s efforts in providing it.

“Like many communities, one major factor is affordability for housing. In Seattle we have seen vacancy rates go down and rents go up, and as a result we’ve seen a direct correlation to homelessness in the past from the One Night Count numbers.”

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