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Living in 
a motel: Family struggles to get back on their feet after layoffs

Caption
(Lauren M. Anderson – landerson@nwherald.com)
Rosa Garcia (right) plays with daughters Serenity (center), 6 weeks, and Alayna Carlson, 6, as the family gets acclimated to their new living quarters Wednesday at a hotel in Woodstock.
Caption
(Lauren M. Anderson – landerson@nwherald.com)
Bryon Carlson (front) moves a few essential items out of his family's house Wednesday in Woodstock with the help of friend Kevin Sorensen (left) and daughter Alayna Carlson, 6. Just before Valentine's Day, Carlson and his fiancée, Rosa Garcia, both lost their jobs, resulting in their eviction this week for failure to pay rent on the house. The family is working with the McHenry County Housing Authority, who helped them find a place to stay as they continue to look for employment.

Don’t tell Bryon Carlson and fiancée Rosa Garcia that economists are saying the recession is over. Garcia and their oldest daughter, Alayna, will celebrate their upcoming 27th and 7th birthdays in a motel room because they were evicted Wednesday from their Woodstock rental home.

The family lived within its means and saved money every paycheck. But Carlson and Garcia lost their jobs on the same day in February and have joined the ranks of homeless families, which homeless advocates say are growing in the bad economy. The room is paid for by a McHenry County Housing Authority program, which gives them up to eight weeks, if they meet weekly goals, to find jobs and relocate.

“I know it’s going to be hard, but I know we can do it,” Carlson said in their motel room.

The family’s newest addition, 6-week-old daughter Serenity, cooed in the background.

“We’re just going to try the best we can,” Carlson said.

Coming back

Carlson and Garcia sat Wednesday afternoon in the Woodstock office of Sue Rose, community service director for the housing authority. Alayna sat at a child’s desk and doodled with crayons as her parents filled out paperwork, trading off holding Serenity, who was getting hungry.

Rose knew the family – the authority helped them out seven years ago through the motel program, and they quickly got back on their feet. Garcia said she struggled with coming back to Rose for help. After all, they were supposed to be a success story.

“Honestly, I didn’t think we’d ever have to see her again,” Garcia said.

Carlson worked full time at Dura-Bar in Woodstock and part time at Pizza Hut, and Garcia made good money baby-sitting for one of Carlson’s coworkers. They decided to have a second child. On Feb. 12, two weeks after learning that Garcia was pregnant, Carlson was laid off.

Garcia picked him up from work. Carlson’s coworker for whom Garcia babysat called her about 45 minutes later, telling her that he, too, lost his job and no longer could pay her.

“As soon as I got that phone call, I just broke down; I didn’t know what to do,” Garcia said.

The housing authority’s programs are tooled toward keeping people in their homes, but it also maintains an emergency shelter program. The program, funded through federal and state money, is open to anyone who has been a county resident for the past 90 days, is not homeless because of controllable behavior, and who meets income and other eligibility requirements, Rose said.

The program is meant to accommodate people who would not be a good fit for McHenry County Public Action to Deliver Shelter, such as families with very young children, or members with mobility issues or disabilities.

The authority now has four families living in motels, and its three transitional apartments also are filled. She has seen the demographics of her clients change in her 14 years with the authority.

“Fourteen years ago, it was single men with drug and alcohol and legal issues, and single moms with very, very small children,” Rose said. “Now I’m seeing a lot more intact families – mom, dad and kids.”

County PADS Director Cathy Perfetti said those numbers were growing. The agency’s network of churches that provide shelter overnight during cold-weather months served 263 adults and nine children last fiscal year, while its day center west of Woodstock last year served 374 adults and 83 children.

The collapse of the housing market that drove the recession also has changed the housing authority’s clientele, Rose said. Callers seeking bill assistance and foreclosure prevention more frequently include laborers, Realtors and mortgage brokers. Rose said the authority recently sheltered a Realtor with no place to live.

Finding work

Rose instructs families going through the program to tell young children that they are going on vacation so that they don’t have to have the memory of staying in a motel because they’re homeless.

Mom and dad have been honest with Alayna, explaining to her as much as a soon-to-be 7-year-old can comprehend. They wanted her to know that they would not be living out of their van, which they bought from a lot after their other car was repossessed.

Alayna smiled as she and Carlson prepared to leave the motel room for some of her possessions, in particular a Hannah Montana backpack filled with books. And Carlson had a small reason for optimism – he had a job interview, arranged by a childhood friend, that morning. If it pans out, their motel stay won’t be long, Carlson said.

But if it doesn’t work out, Carlson has two months to find another. He still has his part-time job at Pizza Hut, but that won’t make ends meet. If the housing authority can’t get the family hooked up with affordable housing, and its three transitional apartments still are occupied, the family might end up at the county’s PADS shelters.

Carlson recognized a car in the motel’s parking lot the day after the family moved in. It belonged to one of his former coworkers, who also got laid off and is living in the motel, but without public assistance.

“This can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter what kind of job they have. It can happen to anyone,” Carlson said. “We’re your average, next-door family.”

To learn more

To contact the McHenry County Housing Authority, visit www.mchenrycountyhousing.org, or call 815-338-7752.

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