Christine says she has lived in Newark, Ohio, most of her life. When she was growing up, though, her family moved around a lot because her father was in the military. They lived in Texas, Arizona, Oregon.
“I really liked the West,” she says smiling, “all them wide open spaces.”
When I met Christine this summer she had been living in a railroad boxcar for two weeks.
“There are more homeless people here than you’d expect,” she says. Even she was surprised to find out that people were living in boxcars. One night she was looking for a safe place to sleep and had heard there was a small camp near the railroad tracks. As she was crossing the tracks, she noticed lights coming out of the top of a car, and lots of heads peering out.
She says most nights she would sleep in one of the cars after hanging out with some of the other people who sleep in the area and gather in a nearby stand of trees.
“It’s a little community in the woods, in the trees. About the only thing we don’t do is sing ‘Kumbaya’ or roast marshmallows.” She says that they don’t want be a nuisance or get caught.
Christine faces enormous challenges. She has no permanent address. No transportation—her bicycle was recently stolen. She has asthma and epilepsy. She has a felony. She is three weeks sober. And right now, she needs food and clothes because—her last landlord dumped her possessions on the street.
“People were going through my stuff,” she says, choking up.
Christine looks tired, but she’s in a positive mood because she’s about to move into an emergency shelter, a studio apartment. For once, she says, she feels fortunate.
According to the Licking County Coalition for Housing “nearly 300 people are homeless in Licking County [where Newark is the county seat] on any given night. 91% of the homeless in Licking County are homeless for the first time. The average household is 2 paychecks away from becoming homeless. 40% of the homeless in Licking County are children.” And just two weeks ago there were 83 evictions at the county eviction court.
Many people struggle to find subsidized housing. The Licking Metropolitan Housing Authority reports that there’s a long, long list. And when housing is available, it’s not always livable. Christine had to leave one place because it was infested with fleas.
Less than 7 miles away from where Christine was sleeping, a home is for sale for over $600K.
“I’m not going to put praise on myself,” Christine says. “There are plenty of people who have it worse than me.”