Every marking on this September calendar page indicates a doctor’s appointment.
Every marking on this September calendar page indicates a doctor’s appointment.
“All we need is a sterile place to lay so we can get our surgeries,” says Lorry.

“I have two growths in my neck and because of them I’m losing my teeth. They’re just falling out,” she says. Lester has a broken back and shattered elbow. But the couple and their yellow Labrador Cayunga are in their seventh month of sleeping “in gravel pits and down a lot of dirt roads” from Appleton to Friendship.

“Can’t afford $600 a month for a campsite,” Lorry says. “When we were young and camping for fun we pitched a tent on the beach, no problem, but today whenever we find a place, within two or three days we have a letter on our tent saying we need to move it. Even in the pouring rain we’ve had to pack up in the middle of the night.”

The couple were number 16 on the waiting list for a low-income housing voucher from the state and, for no reason that Lorry can ascertain, dropped to number 18. Their caseworker with the Knox County Homeless Coalition, Rhonda Lee, says, “This is what we’re up against a lot.” The availability of vouchers “has slowed way down,” and when one is finally awarded, “there are really long wait lists for the housing properties.” Having a dog makes them even harder to house, but Lorry says when her therapist advised her to get rid of Cayunga she asked for another therapist.

Rhonda says that if someone is sleeping outside even in the winter, “Sometimes [the town] will help, sometimes they won’t. Churches are getting tapped out too.” In addition to racing against the freeze to get them shelter, Rhonda is working with a local banker to improve their credit. She says, “When I ask if I can bring them food, Lorry will say, ‘We’re OK. Keep it for someone else.’”

A thick stack of frayed papers is clamped to the passenger-seat visor of their 2002 GMC Yukon. “This is my filing cabinet,” Lester says, “All the bills that we can’t pay right now.” The trunk is neatly packed.  “We try to stay organized because if we don’t we will lose track of where our stuff is,” Lorry says. “Cayunga’s got his bag of stuff here. Of course, we have to have our Bible bag.” Other indispensables are facial wipes and Tiki torches.

Lorry and Lester were farmers, and Lorry cooked at the Come Spring Café. Now, they pick periwinkles (“in Japan they use them as escargots”) on beaches for one whole tide shift just about every day to supplement Lorry’s monthly disability check of $649. Six hours of nonstop picking—murder on Lester’s back— provides about $45 in gas money for getting to doctors’ appointments.

Lorry says, “I know it’s hard times for everybody, but when you are in this situation you know you are in dire straits. We never thought we would be homeless. In the beginning, I would tell Lester, ‘Don’t say anything,’ because I was embarrassed, but now I realize sometimes you are put in lots of situations to be humble. And we have become very humble.”

Lorry and Lester are two of 260 clients of the Knox County Homeless Coalition. Since the re-opening under new management in early 2014, 710 clients have been moved into independent housing. The Hospitality House shelter on Old County Road has 23 beds and the coalition subsidizes motel rooms and campground sites. To donate much-needed funds, or learn more, call 593-8151 or email info@homehelphope.org.