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Family deals with the upheaval of being evicted

September 21, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- She worked for the Department of Social Services but was laid off in April 2008 when her position was eliminated. The mother of three had been looking for work ever since, driving as far as Montgomery County and Washington, D.C., for job interviews.

Her husband had been working full time at a store, but after Christmas his hours were cut to about 20 a week.

In April the family was evicted from a rented duplex, and in May they moved to an apartment provided by the Community Action Council, where they remained in September.

A week into their stay at the shelter in May, family members agreed to share their story. The mother and father updated The Herald-Mail about their situation last week.

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In May, the mother, father and three children -- ages 11, 12, and 14 -- sat in the sparsely furnished living room of their temporary home. The Herald-Mail is not using their names to protect the privacy of the children, who attend Washington County Public Schools.

This was the first time the family had been without a home.

"We always had a place of our own we took care of," the mother said.

She was laid off from her job at Social Services shortly after the family moved into the duplex. Rent was $850 a month but it was the electric bills that played a large role in doing them in, the parents said.

When they rented the home in March 2008, they asked what the electric would cost during the winter heating season, and were told it wouldn't be more than $150 a month.

But when cold weather arrived, they watched the electric bill creep up to $280 a month, then $340.

"Electric took us under more than anything else," the father said.

Then, after Christmas, the father's employer cut his hours, and for more than a month he was working about 20 hours a week.

Within a few months, he was back to full-time work, about 38 hours a week, but it was too late for the family to avoid eviction.

On the day they were interviewed in May, the family was mostly upbeat, although the youngest boy sobbed as he talked about missing friends from his old neighborhood. His mother held his hand while he answered a few questions.

By September, her son was good friends with children who live next door, the mother said.

The father said: "Keep it together, keep it together, keep it together," a motto the family has taken from Eddie Murphy's film "Bowfinger."

With no cable television, they were renting DVDs for free from the Washington County Free Library. Comedies were their favorite.

"Put in some comedy, stay happy," the father said.

His attitude is important, he said, because, "If the captain of the ship crumbles, everyone crumbles."

From his perspective, his family is better off than many others.

"I'm an American. We are spoiled beyond belief," said the father, who served in the U.S. Air Force in the 1980s. "We're not really poor. We're not walking two miles" to get a drink of water.

His wife agreed.

The father made it clear he was sharing his family's story only because of the shooting deaths in April of a family in Middletown, Md.

Police said a 34-year-old man, an account manager for railroad operator CSX Corp., shot his children and 33-year-old wife with a small-caliber handgun as they slept on the night of April 16 and then killed himself with a shotgun the next day.

This father said he could empathize with that father and the pressure he might have been feeling, but said he could never imagine taking such a drastic step.

"My stress level is very high right now, but it would never, ever get to that point," he said four months ago.

What's the hardest part of becoming homeless?

"Not having a home to call your own ... having to pack your family up," the mother said.

As the family was moving out of their rented home, people went through their belongings that had been left at the curb.

"People see a dresser in a yard and think it's a yard sale," the man said.

That first night without a place, the family stayed with friends. Community Action Council had an opening the next day.

Improved circumstances

Without the shelter provided by the Community Action Council, the family knows they might not have been able to find a place where they all could stay together.

That CAC had an opening so soon was nothing less than an answer to prayers, they said.

To remain in the CAC apartment required them to take certain steps.

They had to submit receipts to show how they were spending money, and the mother had to keep a log of all of her job contacts to show she was serious about looking for a job.

And she had been, for more than a year, she said in May.

"Job Services knows me by name," the woman said then.

She said she stopped in almost daily at the office on Franklin Street, and had submitted more than 100 applications.

"Everyone is vying for the same position," she said. She has experience, but no degree. "If you have a BA, an AA, that puts you to the forefront," she said.

Both she and her husband finished high school, and he has an associate degree.

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