PORT ANGELES — The tiny apartment sits atop a steep stairway. A few blocks from downtown, it’s plain as can be, inside and out.
One bright morning, Lee Daniels turns a visitor’s attention to what she sees as the saving grace.
“That view,” she said.
The Olympic Mountains, wearing a shawl of clouds, rise high above the city. The south-facing window gives her a straight shot to them.
“It feels so open and free,” said Daniels, who knows the feeling of being cornered by enormous bills.
With medical expenses and meager disability benefits, she struggled to pay her rent, and was facing eviction.
Daniels heard about the Olympic Community Action Programs, contacted the agency and found she qualified for a small grant from the Peninsula Home Fund.
The fund, supported 100 percent by contributions from local residents, “saved my skin,” she said.
A $200 grant made the difference. Without the Home Fund’s hand up, said Daniels, 60, “I would have been living in my truck.”
Daniels worked earlier this year with Crystal Wayman, an OlyCAP client services specialist in Port Angeles. She praised Wayman and the agency’s staff, saying “they take this stuff personally,” and are experts in connecting people with local resources.
Daniels, who lived with her husband in Sequim for 19 years, never saw herself asking for help like this.
“I was blissfully happy,” living on their farm, growing vegetables, selling fresh eggs, learning about organic gardening, helping her spouse with their landscaping business.
“I was not a complainer,” she added When the going gets bumpy, “my dad taught me to put my big-girl pants on.”
But the past several years have dealt her a series of steep challenges. Her 28-year marriage ended; she found herself with a mortgage she couldn’t pay and no car to drive.
And Daniels, who dressed smartly in white blouse, sweater and jeans, suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammation of the spine that can cause the vertebrae to fuse. There is no cure, and she has had to cope with related health problems.
Then she reunited with her husband. They rented a little house in Port Angeles. The reconciliation didn’t last, and Daniels was again left without a place to live.
In her search for an apartment, she met a property manager from John L. Scott Real Estate. This woman showed her the unit she lives in now, Daniels recalls, and told her, “it’s yours if you want it.”
The woman, now Daniels’ landlady, is Valerie Lape.
“I don’t believe in angels,” she said, “but Valerie is an angel.”
Lape laughed when she heard this. That’s not what people typically call Realtors and property managers, she said. But seriously, Lape knows how difficult it can be for tenants who are on fixed incomes to pay rent. She’s heard of $300 increases in Port Angeles.
With allies such as Lape and OlyCAP, things are looking up for Daniels. She shares her apartment with Scooter, her Samoyed-Australian shepherd cross, and Momo the Chihuahua; they’re good company on these wintry days.
Daniels was also able to get much-needed hearing aids from the local Lions Club’s program.
“These are the Sputnik of hearing aids,” she joked, likening the devices to the earliest spacecraft, launched by the Soviets in 1957.
The new year, for Daniels, brings a new outlook.
“I’d like to finish moving in here,” she said. “I’m looking forward to going on without thoughts of ‘back then.’ ”
Her former life over, “it’s time to move forward — physically too.” Daniels’ health prevents her from going far from her doorstep. But she wants to do some crafting, and just enjoy time with her pets. Taking them out for walks — going up and down those stairs — keeps her active.
Daniels also finds Port Angeles suits her.
“People here are upbeat,” she said, “even though there’s a lot of poverty.” Not far from her front door, she sees women and men looking for places to sleep outside.
“I’ve taken them blankets. I’ve taken them peanut butter and jelly,” she said.
“These are people, like you and me.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.