Faces of Our Homeless: Cindy & Rob
Wednesday, December 21, 2016 11:05 AM
“They call it a double-wide but walk around and there is nothing double-wide about it. It’s a beautiful house,” Rob says, as he and Cindy lead a visitor through the mud, past the yellow construction tape, and up the temporary stairs of their very own home they expect to be in for Christmas.
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For 12 years, they and their four children were homeless “or living in substandard housing.”
“Tents, people’s couches, wherever we could find a place,” says Rob. Cindy works full-time, overnight shift, at a residential home for the mentally disabled. “And the houses we were living in, the tents were better.”
Used to be, Rob was a manager at Walmart and Cindy a stay-at-home mom. “We were comfortable,” says Rob. “Lower middle class.” Then Rob suffered a back injury and, says Cindy, “it all went downhill from there.
“You rob Peter to pay Paul and eventually Paul was out of money and in the end so was Peter.”
Their first contact with the Knox County Homeless Coalition was two years ago. Bill Meade was assigned as their case manager.
“He helped us fill out housing applications, lots and lots of them,” says Rob. “We found a place and thought we were OK, moved in September 11, and in May they said they had sold it and you have two weeks to leave.” All six of them “moved to different friends’ houses, and then a campground.” Bill secured them rent money for the first two months of living in a tent, and gas cards so they could drive their youngest to school.
When the deep winter set in, “We ended up moving in with a person in Hope who has land and helps out homeless people.” Then, “more bouncing from couch to couch.” “Bill made lots and lots of phone calls. Any time we had any lead he would be the voice we needed to try to push it through.” He got them into their last apartment.
What makes it impossible to find safe, affordable housing here, Rob says, is, “Rich people have come in and bought all the homes and renovated them to the degree that poor people can’t afford to live there. We were renting a dump on Masonic that’s now marketed through Sotheby’s. So rents are outrageous and you still only have temporary housing because they can get a lot more to rent it in the summer.”
Cindy says that Bill “has helped us anytime with anything we need,” including food, furniture, and even the sneakers Cindy is wearing. “He helped me get back in school to get a degree to get a better-paying job, so we can keep up with [the home expenses].” She is working toward becoming a counselor for special-needs children.
An insurance company settlement for Rob’s back injury is what enabled them to finally buy their own house.
“We found the house,” says Cindy. “But [help from the homeless coalition] is not just about getting someone a house. It’s also about providing someone with the tools they need to get into the house. When you’re able and willing to take responsibility for yourself a lot more happens.”
Another important way the homeless coalition helps, she says, is “the encouragement. Even if you’re the most positive person on the face of the earth, you are going to get discouraged. Every time you move, you give or throw everything away or have to find storage, which is ridiculously expensive. It’s very easy to get depressed when you’re living in a tent, the rain has been coming down for four days and everything is soaked.”
Cindy says she is sharing her story because the midcoast public has to know how bad the homeless situation is in their community. And it’s getting worse: “I can think of four people right now living in tents, in this freezing weather, and one in their barn with no heat.” A young woman living in her car will be moving in with them, to sleep on their living room couch. Rob says, “One of the reasons we bought this big house is to have room for others when they need it. It’s all fine and good to talk about it, but unless you’re doing something about it you’re not making a difference.”
Cindy says, “It’s hard to escape poverty. You make more money and you lose [all your government benefits] and it’s like, ‘Wait, I’m not on my feet yet.’ This is our escape. Everything we had went to buy this house and we will still be eating at the (St. Bernard’s) soup kitchen but we’re done starting over. Just to be at peace knowing that you never have to be on someone’s couch again, that’s quite the peace of mind.”
Knox County Homeless Coalition will continue to support Rob and Cindy, and hundreds of other families, until they are on their feet, with food, clothing, and services like transportation and access to education and improved earning potential. For more information or to find out how to support the coalition’s work, visit homehelphope.org or call 593-8151. Funding is critical and contributions can be mailed to Knox County Homeless Coalition, P.O. Box 1696, Rockland ME 04841.