There are many ways to celebrate a birthday, but living at a campground with three children is probably not the way 30-year-old Amanda* envisioned the transition to 31 would occur.
But just a few weeks before her 31st birthday, that is exactly where she found herself – homeless, living in a tent with four sleeping bags, one each for her and her children Joseph, 9, Connor, 6, and Beth, 3.
With no vehicle, the family spent the better part of May, June and July relying on the kindness of strangers and the support of HAC to receive the essentials they needed – food and clothing – to survive the outdoors. During one significant storm, HAC was able to temporarily transition them into a local motel for two nights before they returned to the campground.
While many situations involving the Cape’s homeless population handled by HAC are difficult, family housing services department administrative assistant Monica Mitchell was particularly struck by the troubling nature of this one. “This was an extreme situation where they didn’t have anything except the clothes on their back,” Mitchell said.
“It’s been a struggle,” Amanda admitted, sitting on one of five folding chairs situated around a fire pit on a warm, sunny day during the second week of June.
About 20 feet away, on a picnic table covered with a plastic tablecloth sat much of the family’s belongings. There was a plastic bin full of small toys – dinosaurs, rubber balls, action figures and children’s books, all donated by strangers – to keep her kids entertained.
A small cooler was used to keep perishables cold with more important food kept inside the tent so that animals, like the raccoon that visited the night before, would not take what little they had. Food was cooked on either a small portable propane stove or over the fire pit.
“I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible,” Amanda said, when asked what she makes. That meant lots of hot dogs, fresh fruit, vegetables and granola bars.
Trips to the nearby restrooms or showers required bringing the entire family to ensure everyone was safe.
For adventurers seeking a weekend getaway, there is a romantic notion to living like this. But when it is about survival, it is a much different story.
There is a sadness to their situation which Amanda never acknowledged. Her focus, since becoming homeless in April when she left her husband and their religious community, was protecting her children in hopes they will soon have a better, more stable life.
To that end, HAC staff, along with TEAM M25, have provided the family with everything they need until they are eventually placed into an affordable apartment using HomeBase funds from the state that are intended for extreme cases like this.
These are the small steps called progress, better than having to call a tent your home.
Being homeless is difficult enough and has only been compounded for this family by several factors: according to HAC staff, Amanda appeared to have been mentally abused; they had no belongings; and the children, due to their religion, had never been vaccinated.
Through it all, Amanda has maintained a positive, upbeat attitude, displaying a courage that has impressed Mitchell who has been in contact with her on an almost daily basis this summer. “She has given me an unbelievable amount of strength watching her,” Mitchell said. “She is always calm, always focused. She knows this is a tiny blip and that this too shall pass.”
And it will when the family eventually moves into a three-bedroom apartment on Cape Cod, representing a stability that Amanda and her three children have been seeking for months. “Most of our lives, our whole family has been cramped into one room,” Amanda said. “This will feel like we’ve won the lottery, living in a three-bedroom house.”
She makes the statement as her oldest son, puts the finishing touches on homemade sassafras tea, and her other son rollerblades around the camp site. Her daughter, meanwhile, is taking a nap in the tent that provided them with safety for several weeks in the late spring and summer of 2015 when they had nowhere else to go.
They look as normal as you or I, only they are homeless.
*NOTE: The names of the client in this story have been changed.