Seattle – Under the concrete pillars of the state Route 520 bridge in Seattle, anchored in a foot of water, William Kaphaem and his dog, Lulu, live in an aluminum 14-foot rowboat.
They seem to have found peace at the edge of the Arboretum.
Kaphaem has rigged the boat so it’s covered by a 20-by-18-foot brown plastic tarp, with a few feet of headroom. It seems to blend in with the muddy bottom by the bridge posts of the Montlake Boulevard East exit.
You wouldn’t even know there was somebody inside unless you yelled over the noise of the rumbling cars and trucks above, “Hey, Three Stars!”
Kaphaem, 51, says he has Mohawk ancestry and so he prefers to be called by that name, which reflects the outdoors.
Hearing your voice, Kaphaem – Three Stars – will lift up the tarp that serves as his cocoon.
“Actually, a lot of light gets through,” he says.
Inside his rowboat home, he sometimes reads, and often listens to a baseball game or KIXI-AM easy-listening classic hits on a battery-powered radio with a headset. He handrolls cigarettes with filters.
Across a couple of the benches, he has laid a sheet of plywood that serves as the backing for his bed.
He has a Coleman lantern and a stove, making sure to ventilate when heating some soup or frying up fish. For cold nights and days, he wears three or four layers of clothing.
In the boat, he has five spinning rods, and, using worms, manages to catch perch, bass and the occasional trout.
He has a collapsible trap for catching crawdads, which he plans to use in the summer when he rows up Lake Washington to the Sammamish Slough.
He has a close-up view of the wildlife there.
“Beavers, muskrats, wood ducks, eagles – lots of eagles – blue herons, green herons, mallards, Canada geese, cormorants, kingfishers, raccoons, coyotes, now and then,” says Three Stars about what he’s seen.
Among the some 2,400 homeless counted living outside this January by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, his is one of the more unusual living arrangements.
The way he sees it, he and Lulu didn’t have much choice: the streets or here.
“I’ve got a lot of stuff. I didn’t want to schlep it around town like some tramp,” says Three Stars. “I’ve got more dignity than that.”
Early in 2010, after the death of the elderly owner of the West Seattle home in which he was renting a room for $150 a month, Three Stars had to find cheap lodging.
He lives on $636 a month SSI, the government’s program to help the aged and disabled. That allows him to take the bus to the Safeway on Capitol Hill and shop for himself and Lulu.
Three Stars qualifies for SSI because, as he explains it, he’s got the kind of attention-deficit disorder “in which like I had 40 jobs in two years, and I got fired in all of them Burger King, grocery store sometimes I can’t shut my face.”