Photography and Text by Natalie Behring
In mid-December 2020, Sara Carroll and her family were getting ready for Christmas. The past year had been hard on the the family of six along with their three dogs and three cats. They were living in a cramped two-bedroom home, rented by her father, near the east bank of the Snake River in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Geoff Carroll, Sara’s father had been laid off from his construction job, which often happens in the fall and winter months in this region. Two of their three cars had broken down. Sara’s brother Richard split with his wife and moved in with the family (two of the dogs are his). Sara was pregnant with a baby that will need medical care to correct a cleft palate. In order to make some extra money to make ends meet, Sara signed up with DoorDash, delivering food from restaurants. If their economic condition was not bad enough, they were mortified when they received a notice from their new landlord that would make it impossible for them to stay in their home. They would have to vacate by January 15, 2021.
The previous landlord had shown the property to someone a few months before, but he also told the tenants of the four-plex unit he had no intention of selling, or if he did it would be far in the future. So it was a shock to the family when 10 days before Christmas they received a notice informing them that the rent was increasing from $550 to $900 and each pet would require a $150 deposit as well as additional $50 rent per month. Furthermore, the letter indicated that only those named on the lease would be allowed to live on the premises, even then, no more than four people, a restriction which is against the rules set forth by HUD.
Sara’s boyfriend, Matt Holloway, was employed as a diesel mechanic earning $15/hour, but there had been several outbreaks of Coronavirus at the truck stop where he worked, forcing him to quarantine without pay. After one outbreak they waited for an agonizing week and a half for the results of the test, during which time he could not work.
The family knew immediately that it would be impossible for them to bear the cost of a doubled rent, “We don’t have jobs like that” said Sara.
Their savings depleted, the family had no choice but to vacate the home Geoff had lived in for more than a decade.
They wanted to stay together as a family, but quickly realized that it would be impossible to find anything within their limited budget. Sara and Matt began looking for a new apartment for themselves and their two kids Julien 8, (from a previous relationship) and one-year-old, Nova Leigh.
Sara worried that they might become homeless. Her Fitbit indicated that she was only getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night, waking up often in a panic worrying about money. “I was like, we need help. This is going to cost thousands, there just no way we can come up with that in a couple weeks,” said Sara adding that they were ineligible for welfare or other assistance since the family made too much money.
With COVID-19 sweeping the country, the Centers for Disease Control had issued an order, announced Sept. 1, that suspended evictions for the remainder of 2020 for tenants who submit a form to their landlords saying under penalty of perjury that among other qualifications, they can’t pay their rent because of a loss in income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that an eviction would either render them homeless or force them to move into a new shared living setting.
Sara’s family couldn’t prove that their economic hardship was COVID-19 related.
“We literally had to save every penny. We turned off a bunch of stuff — the internet and extra things like Netflix and Disney Plus. We got new, cheaper phone plans — anything that we could cut down, “ Sara said.
The family also changed their eating habits: cutting out the more expensive items, or anything brand name. They ate a lot of macaroni and cheese, ramen soup and sandwiches, “Anything that we can think of that can save us a little bit.”
It was humiliating, but in desperation, Sara turned to GoFundMe.com, hoping to get a little money from family and friends. “I’d never posted something like that before online, so it was very hard, I don’t want people knowing — you know, and some of the comments were so mean. But we had to, there was just nothing else we could do.”
She called her local paper, the Idaho State Journal, and a reporter wrote a story about their plight. When the story was published donations started pouring in. “It was basically a miracle. The Idaho State Journal just saved us from being on the streets,” said Sara.
In total, family received more than $11,000. They decided to all move together to Colorado and rented the largest U-Haul truck they could — 25 feet long with a trailer to haul one of the broken cars, a Pontiac with pink license plates. Geoff said he was the only one brave enough to drive the elongated rig, keeping in mind the treacherous icy roads on I-80 in winter. The family slept in their cars at a rest stop in January in Wyoming, where temperatures dip well below freezing every night, but made it to Colorado safely. They found a three bedroom with two bathrooms in a Denver suburb along with a one bedroom for her brother who already found a job installing windows in high-rises.
Despite the impressive sum raised, Sara says that she’s budgeting to make it work. Once the U-Haul rental, gasoline for a couple cars (to save money they filled up jerry cans in Idaho where gas is cheaper), the first and last month’s rent at lease signing along with the security deposits are paid on two apartments, the money will be gone.
FROM THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION:
“CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has signed an extension to the eviction moratorium further preventing the eviction of tenants who are unable to make rental payments. The moratorium that was scheduled to expire on June 30, 2021 is now extended through July 31, 2021 and this is intended to be the final extension of the moratorium.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to the nation’s public health. Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings — like homeless shelters — by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
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