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Sunday Reflections: Becoming a Statistic

As we begin 2015, I can’t help but hope that it is somehow better than 2014. Great things happened in 2014: TLT joined SLJ, Amanda MacGregor joined us, and my kids rock. But something else happened in 2014. Something very personal. In 2014, I became a statistic. I share this story with you now because I see it happening all around me and understanding how easily it happens can better help us serve the teens around us.

In 2014, we became one of the many U.S. citizens that lost a home to foreclosure. But that journey did not begin in 2014, it began in 2008.

In 2008, Thing 2 was born as the world around us collapsed economically. She was born with a variety of health issues that resulted in lots of doctors appointments, specialists, and pharmaceutical grade formula that could bankrupt the richest of families. At that same time, The Mr. realized that he was going to be losing his job and found a new one that turned out to suck in epic ways. He ended up working nights which caused devastating health consequences for him. After searching for over 2 years he finally found a new (and better job) in 2010 – but in a different state.

For a year he spent the week in Texas while the girls and I stayed in our home in Ohio; he came home every other weekend to see his girls. I was lucky to have a job I loved, friends and family I loved, and the support I needed as I tried to navigate what felt like single motherhood with a child with health issues while working a very fulfilling full-time job. But then in February 2011, all hell broke lose. Quite literally.

Pictures from the Flood

The town I lived in in Ohio was ranked as part of the poorest county of all of Ohio. Crime rates were rising, drug use was rising, and the schools were underfunded and failing. This town was struggling. And then that night, the last night of February, the town flooded. My home flooded. I woke up at 4 AM because of a burning smell in my home only to learn that was the least of my problems. As rushing waters filled my basement, I opened my front door to find thigh high water racing through the streets.  The electrical outlook was arcing as water rushed in to flood my home, electrifying the water filling my basement. The damage to our home and belongings was substantial. We lost 1/3 of our possessions. And although the flooding wasn’t covered by insurance, they did find a loophole to give us money to replace our furnace and water heater. That money would soon bite us in the butt as the insurance company dropped us. Unable to find another insurance company that would insure a home with flood damage, the mortgage company forced an insurance provider to cover us, but doubling our mortgage payments.

In 2011, after floods and health issues, we decided that we needed to be together as a family and moved to Texas where The Mr.’s job was. Leaving everything I loved behind was one of the hardest things I had to do. Even more worrying, we knew that we would never be able to sell our house. But for 3 years we were incredibly lucky and were able to find someone to rent it. Knowing what the market was, the first couple of years of forced insurance meant we had to charge under what the monthly payment was and find ways to make up the difference out of our own budget. These were lean years made more difficult by the fact that I was only able to find part-time employment when we made the move to Texas. There were points in the last 3 years where The Mr. worked multiple jobs while I worked part-time and took any freelance project I could get just to make ends meet. Our children learned that our house was a house of no; no candy, no nights out at dinner and a movies, and no new shoes (thrift stores are our friend). Our life became dramatically different. The types of foods we ate changed (healthy food is vastly more expensive than unhealthy food). Thing 2 was put in only partial preschool because we could not afford a full week of preschool. And I put my librarian skills to use finding free entertainment whenever possible for my kids, the more educational the better.

Then in June of 2014 our renters moved out. The town had flooded again (climate change?). We had to replace the furnace. Again. But we could not come up with the money – $12,000 was the lowest estimate we received – to fix the now ravaged roof. Our renters had tried to buy the house twice in these years but could not get approved due to their own financial issues. Suddenly we were forced to try and pay for this home out of a pocket that had nothing to spare but lint.

Soon the letters started coming as we scrambled to figure out ways to save this home in a state where we no longer lived. This home where I had penciled in my children’s growth each month on the door jam. This home where friends had come over and eaten pizza with us as we watched our toddlers play in the baby pool. This home where I had brought Thing 2 home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day, only 1 day old. This home that had been the only home I had ever known with my beautiful girls, the loves of my life.

Time and money were not on our side and no matter our intentions, we could not afford two homes. We knew that we had been lucky to have renters for the years that we did. They, like us and so many people like us, were barely scraping by themselves. And that is how in 2014 we became a statistic: we were one of the now many people who lost a home to foreclosure in the state that has the 13th highest rate of foreclosure in the nation. We are no longer names, but numbers on a court docket and another stat to mark down in the books.

I don’t tell you this because I want you to feel pity for me. I know that many of you will feel disgust and the truth is I share in your disgust; I am embarrassed and ashamed. I am sad. A part of me always hoped that one day my family would return to that home and we could recapture those memories with those people in that home that we loved. Now we can’t. Now we will never be able to look at those door jams again and see my children growing in those pencil marks. My children will never return home from college to their childhood home and see their childhood friends. They will never bring their own children to my home and say, look there is the room I was raised in. We didn’t just lose a house, we lost precious moments, we lost possibilities and hope, and we lost the sense of community that made us feel like we were safe.

The thing is, we are not alone.

Thing 2 goes to Kindergarten with a little girl from a family of 5 living in two rooms of their grandparent’s home. The family is trying to find work and save up money to find a new home. There are 7 people living in this dwelling meant for 4 at most.

The Tween is friends with the girl next door. The dad lost his job and then they lost their home in another state. They moved here as a family member is kindly paying for their home while the dad tries to find steady work to get the family back on their feet. The high schooled age boys sleep on a full size mattress that sits on the floor of one of the rooms. They sometimes get food from the local food bank when the dad’s contract work runs out and he searches for something new.

Another classmate of The Tween’s had to sell their home when the mother was diagnosed with cancer. They now live in a pop up camper on the land of some family members while they try to stay afloat and get the medical care the mother needs.

Recently I helped a man in a suit and tie apply online for a job at Sonic. He was searching for any job, any where after being laid off to take care of his family. He cried as he shared with me his desperation to keep his family together.

They are among the many who are what is being called the new definition of homelessness, the quietly homeless. There are less families sleeping in cars and in shelters, but more families who are living with other family members – couch surfing as it is sometimes called – while they try and get back on their feet. Homelessness doesn’t always look the way we think it does:

“Every year, hundreds of thousands of American families become homeless, including more than 1.6 million children. These families are hidden from our view. They move frequently, and many are doubled-up in overcrowded apartments with relatives or friends. Others sleep in cars and campgrounds or send their children to stay with relatives to avoid shelter life.” (source http://www.familyhomelessness.org/facts.php?p=tm)

Here’s more information about the “quiet homeless” epidemic from Salon:

According to HUD, the number of people on the streets and in shelters on a single night in January has fallen for the past four years straight. Even more remarkably, the category that HUD terms chronic homelessness — people with mental or physical disabilities living without a home for extended periods, or repeatedly — has dropped 30 percent since 2007, even as the nation went through a severe recession.

But there’s also another story about homelessness in America, told by a report from the National Center for Family Homelessness, that shows a record number of children are now homeless. That’s based on data from the Department of Education, which measures homelessness quite differently from HUD. Instead of just surveying streets and shelters, the DOE includes anyone who’s living doubled-up, couch-surfing with friends or extended family. Because of that, the scale of the problem depends on which source you’re looking at — almost 1.3 million homeless students by the DOE’s count, compared with HUD’s point-in-time estimate of 578,424 homeless people of all ages. (source: http://www.salon.com/2014/12/25/help_these_kids_today_americas_quiet_homelessness_nightmare_is_1_3_million_homeless_students/)

My family is lucky, we are not homeless. We lost a home, but right now we have one that we are working desperately to hang on to as we navigate the murky financial and legal waters of losing a home. Many others are not so lucky. They are often our neighbors, our students, our teens in our libraries. They quietly sit among you while their insides rage with turmoil and strife and uncertainty and stress.

The other thing you need to know is that losing your home fixes nothing. No one wants it. It trashes your credit, there are tons of costs that come with it – costs that you probably can’t afford and cause even more compounding issues – and then there is the shame and loss. And for many, their struggles are only beginning. These teens are growing up with this constant sense of fear and insecurity that cripples. They are dependent on the generosity of family members or friends. And then you have this constant fear that you can lose everything all over again at any moment. When you’ve lost it all, you are all too aware of how easy it is. One medical diagnosis, one storm, one lost job is all it takes. 1 in 30 youth today has experienced this. These are our teens.

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/26/college-student-homeless-boston_n_6145980.html ; http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/11/17/3593226/homeless-children-record/

Salon: http://www.salon.com/2014/12/25/how_i_became_homeless/

More Teens and Poverty in TLT:

See also Stacked: Socioeconomic Class in Contemporary YA Lit: Where Are The Poor Teens? Guest Post by Librarian Faythe Arrendondo and Kate Brauning: Writing Poverty in YA

Comments

  1. So sorry you are going through this. This sounds like a lot of my childhood; my mom is a single mother of four who lost our house and we moved in with my grandma. We heard “no” a lot growing up, too. Looking back as an adult, I realize how much my mom gave us with so little. Your girls will grow up knowing how much you sacrificed for them and how you made things work even during the rough times. Praying for your family!

  2. Well done, Karen.

    .My home sat on the precipice of the foreclosure process because I lost my ft job and could only find pt work….then the roof leaked and there was a gas leak in the furnace in the same month, and the house entered the foreclosure process. The bank refused to work with me. Had I not found pt work, I’d have qualified for a forbearance of six months. Then the pt job was taken away.

    In less than 12 months, our family home of 15 years, my children’s home from the hospital home and safe place after divorce, is bank owned. Single mom, two kids, no job, and when our state’s redemption period ends soon, no home.

    I’m not really ashamed. I fought hard to stay, could have caught up with time that I was refused.. I leave the bank a well-cared for home with a brand new roof; i was fortunate to get insurance money after a storm, a house I listed for sale close to a year ago. Can’t see anymore I could have done. Except.perhaps have less crappy luck.

    My best effort was excellent but not enough. I’m willing to bet your efforts were just as excellent, even if they fell short.

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