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Wrote by a guest-the reality

How did we get here? I'm sure this is a familiar question asked by many others currently stamped with the "homeless" status in Ravalli County. It is more common than you think. It is stereotypical to think that a person classified as homeless must be poor or they lack the basic means and finances to obtain shelter. They must have made bad decisions, or maybe they should work at McDonald's. This could not be farther from the truth. Just because you are homeless does not make you poor... My husband and I, along with our 2 youngest kids, live in an RV that we purchased last summer when our 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom double garage 2500 square ft home that we rented for 6 years sold. The owner decided to take advantage of the aggressive housing market and served a notice that drastically interrupted our lives. I get it, if given the opportunity to sell at 3 times the value, it would be a tough decision not to strike while the iron is hot. What came next was the devastating part... A housing shortage, along with a ridiculous rent increase that left us with nowhere to go. Let me give you a little background information about who we are. My husband owns his own construction business while I work in the OR as a Surgical Assistant. We are by no means wealthy but secure and content financially. We both work over 40 hours a week, we lead bible studies on Wednesdays, and we devote all our free time to our family and friends. We participate in community outreach both here in Montana and in various 3rd world countries. We welcome and feed anyone that walks through our door. We have taken in several families and individuals that needed a safe place to stay. We pay our taxes, we pay our bills, and we help others in any way we can. In August 2022, we were in a horrible car accident. Our vehicle ceased while traveling 80mph on I-90. We rolled 7 times before coming to a stop. 2 of our kids were ejected from the vehicle and we all suffered serious injuries. Our youngest was transported by life flight with 2 fractures to her skull, a brain hemorrhage, fractured facial bones, and serious lacerations to her torso and hand. We spent almost 2 weeks in ICU in Great Falls. When we were able to return home, no one could have prepared us for the journey it would be to rehabilitate not only physical injuries and ongoing mental health from brain injuries, loss of income from medical leave, and all the other grueling disturbances that follow trauma but also the unavoidable housing dilemma that struck the valley without warning. We were just getting back up from the accident when we lost our home. We searched relentlessly for a rental or affordable property. Any place we found that was reasonably priced, we ran into waiting lists that were 30 families deep—everything else we found to be triple the normal rate and exceeded over half of our monthly income. We spent 2 months in a hotel room with no end in site.. With nowhere else to turn, we blew through our savings and bought a used 5th wheel that we planned to live in for a few months until the housing crisis smoothed out. We soon found out that RV life was not just a walk in the park. It costs more to live in an RV than it does to rent a house once you figure lot rent, electricity, water, propane, internet, septic, showers, laundry, and gas to and from storage units. Plus, winterizing an RV that is occupied is a nightmare. Our pipes would freeze, or the breaker would blow often leaving us with no heat or water for days. We set up at 5 different temporary locations. Some with full hookups and others that required some improvising. Each time we moved we had to hire someone with a fifth wheel hitch to move us. We moved 3 times during the coldest months of winter. If you have ever skirted an RV or desperately tried to keep one warm, you know how much work this entails. The few months that we thought it would be before we found housing has now turned into a year with still no promising end. We are employed full-time but continue throwing our money at our current living situation and getting nowhere. There is no room to get ahead or even entertain renting or buying property when the cost-of-living increases but the pay or wage stays the same. We have come across a few programs that have been helpful in taking some of the burden that "homeless" entails. We are thankful for Loads of Dignity for providing laundry services. Stefani, the sweet lady that makes this service available, has been a godsend. She conducts herself with selfless compassion and prides on keeping client situations discreet and anonymous. I have never met her in person but in the conversations I've had with her I can feel her heart and passion to help. The world needs more Stefani’s to bring light to the gloom. I will forever be encouraged by her acts of kindness and selfless heart. When life knocks you down, a kind, generous, caring hand to help you up makes all the difference in the world. We will continue to make the best of our current status quo as it seems to have become the norm not only for us but for so many others in the community. There is no telling what the future holds for this housing crisis and though the road ahead appears long and relentless, we will pursue the journey with hope and optimism.

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