Billy Kimbler: His story


Note to Reader:  What you are about to read is one homeless man’s account of why he is homeless.  We did not seek to verify facts; that would be beside the point. This is his story; take it as you will.

Billy Kimbler has been homeless most of his life.

Born in 1959 in the small town of Goldendale, he grew up in Yelm.

“My parents used drugs and alcohol, and they used to beat the hell out of me,” he said as he sat on the sidewalk next to a downtown building near Thurston Avenue NE and Washington Street NE.

To escape the abuse, Kimbler got a hold of a tent and went to live on the Nisqually River.  He was 10 years old.

He pointed out that some families in the area helped him with food, clothing, housing and getting him to school.   Despite those efforts, he only managed to finish the eighth grade.

“Much of this was my fault,” he continued.  “I wasn’t interested in school, and I had started to use and sell drugs.”  He added that he had also had several run-ins with law enforcement but would not elaborate.

A few years later, Kimbler began to move around the state.  He said that he had worked several jobs on-and-off for over 15 years, and that he had been married.

“I fought forest fires for about eight years,” he said, “and I worked at a bunch of odd jobs when I could get them.” As to his marriage,  it fell apart in a few years because of his drug use.

He said he left this area for about 20 years because his former wife’s family "had it out" for him.  He refused to provide any specifics.

“But now that some of her family members have passed, I decided to return to this area about eight months ago.”

When asked why not another city, he said he knew he could find food and clothing at the Olympia Union Gospel Mission.  “But I will not sleep there,” he stated.  “Sleeping on mats on a concrete floor with six inches of space between others is not something I will do.”

Asked if he would accept help with regard to his drug use or housing, he replied that it depended on what was offered.  When it was pointed out to him that he was not in the best position to turn down any help, he shrugged.

“The city has offered help before, but what it offers does not work for me,” he said, “and I’m not interested in what the mission offers.”

I’ve been using drugs since I was eight; I’m not stopping now,” he snapped.  Reminded that there is a fentanyl epidemic that has claimed the lives of drug users, he shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m not worried about it,” he said.

‘Make them work for it’

“Nothing [about the conditions homeless people face] has changed,” he continued.  “Up and down the freeways there are more homeless encampments; what we need is something to do.”

Pressed to explain what he thinks the homeless need to do, Kimbler replied that “putting the homeless into old hotels is a good idea, but don’t just give them a place to live, make them work for it.”

Asked if he would live in a refurbished hotel, he said no.

“I don’t want to do that; I’ve been homeless most of my life; why should I change?” he snapped.

As he got up to leave, he was asked what he would like to say to those who point out that he is nothing but a drug user who has contributed to ruining the downtown area.

“They don’t know s**t about me and what I have been through,” he said as he started to walk away. 

“What has anybody ever done for me in my life?”

JM Simpson is a veteran photojournalist who lives in Lacey.


7 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Southsoundguy

    Very tragic story.

    Wednesday, June 21, 2023 Report this

  • JulesJames

    Just saying "thank you" because this reporting is so powerful.

    Wednesday, June 21, 2023 Report this

  • Oly1963

    Oh Please! Root cause people....root cause. Let's recap....homelessness is his choice; drug addict; criminal; doesn't want to work; won't go to a shelter; chose Olympia because he likes the freebees Olympia gives people who choose this lifestyle. This is about choice. His choice. Stop making this lifestyle an option and he will make other choices. By his own admission, he is capable of working, capable of making other decisions. But why should he - why would he? WAKE UP OLYMPIA before it's too late. People don't need freebees - they need solutions to the root cause of their problems; mental health; drug addiction; criminal behaviors. Yep - I'm talking about mandatory programs that give people the option of dealing with their drug problem or mental health issues or spending their time in jail. I don't have a problem with my hard earned tax dollars being used to support programs that lead to solutions and support people who will become contributors to our society; I do have a serious problem funding bandaids for people who love to watch themselves bleed!!

    Thursday, June 22, 2023 Report this


    I appreciate JOLT and am disappointed at the lens taken here. This gentleman's humanity should be honored, regardless of his living situation, substance use, or other conditions. The way this story is told, the way the author pressed the individual interviewed, and the lack of true care for him as I read it, it feels like this journalism was extractive and exploitive. Thank you for listening, and taking these concerns seriously. Houseless people are no less of people than you or I who have homes. Please do better next time, JOLT. Thank you.

    Thursday, June 22, 2023 Report this

  • OlympiaUsedToBeANicePlaceToLive

    His humanity, LOL. Hhe admits he is the very definition of "nothing but a drug user who has contributed to ruining the downtown area"

    We need to stop coddling these people. It's not a solution, it's not compassionate, and it is destroying our community.

    Thursday, June 22, 2023 Report this

  • metalFish

    This account is concise and subjective on purpose. We cannot monolith the houseless person's experience. As a person who has the utmost compassion for 'rough sleepers' I understand his point of view to be shaped by the circumstances by which his parent's brought him into this world; and, the loss of self-worth that accompanies these circumstances.

    I often perceive the 'bad faith' logic (i.e. he doesn't want help; he's a criminal, etc.) of most people as feeling helpless about Homelessness--and this is represented by the impulse to further moralize the issue as an individual's fault. We could all do a lot better at utilizing our gratitude within ourselves as having our needs met, AND extending compassion by asking how to help. Otherwise, we are participating in the similar downgraded lack of self-worth that 'rough-sleepers' are facing everyday.

    Wednesday, June 28, 2023 Report this

  • OlympiaUsedToBeANicePlaceToLive

    Once again there are folks who continue to imply that those of us who work to support ourselves are "lucky to have our needs met" when in fact it is nothing of the sort. We work to have our needs met. As opposed to those who want a handout so they can continue their rough, drug ridden lifestyle.

    Let's focus on those who work but can't afford housing rather than providing free room and board to inveterate drug users.

    I for one am tired of being taxed into homelessness myself in order to help those who won't do a thing to help themselves.

    Wednesday, July 5, 2023 Report this