S.O. Close to Homeless: Part One

NBC5 News is kicking off a brand new series and a community discussion called “S.O. Close to Homeless.”

We’re partnering with community action agency ACCESS to bring you an in-depth look into the lives of people who are homeless, have been homeless, or who are very close to it.

This week, we met Joel Roberts–a single father who lost his thirty year career as a truck driver after suffering a heart attack.

After 14 months on the street with his family, he was able to get into a home with the help of local resources and his own determination.

Roberts said, “To cook in your own house, instead of going to the mission, it’s an um, it’s an accomplishment.”

Roberts and his 10-year-old son Elijah have lived in their current home for more than a year now, but they were on the street for longer than that.

“We had two shopping carts, two cats, a dog, a little boy, and me and my wife, and nowhere to go,” said Roberts.

That’s not where they started. It’s where they ended up after Roberts had a heart attack on the job.

By the time he went to the hospital, he had been under cardiac arrest for more than 48 hours. He said, “Now I walk around with 6 stents in my heart.”

It was a turning point that put their financial freedom in jeopardy. Roberts said, “I made some choices of not having, you know, insurance, it’s very expensive in California, and so I my own truck, I had to sell it, probably assets of about $250,000 down the drain, within a matter of 60 days.”

All of that money, going to a two week stay in the hospital.

It was then that he, his wife Lane, and their son Elijah moved to the Rogue valley with Roberts’ father.  He said, “When I came here, I thought, okay, start all over, maybe I can do some work, and stuff but, my body won’t take it, and it’s embarrassing, because uh, you know, guys want to provide for their family, you know.”

He got a job painting houses, but in the end he wasn’t able to keep it. “I have a nerve, uh, disorder in my brain, and I fell off the roof.”

That’s when Roberts really began looking into local resources, like ACCESS and the Maslow Project.

Roberts said, “You have to mind your manners, you know, it’s not like you’re kissing butt, you just have to be normal, nobody owes anybody anything, you owe yourself.”

After a while, it became the family’s routine. “Lane did all the paperwork, you know, she was the brain, I was kind of the brawn.”

They began to look for housing but didn’t realize at first what a long road it would be.

“Thitry-six applications and got denied, each and every time,” Roberts said. “Me and Lane had just split up 6 days, and this place here came through.”

It was an answer they weren’t expecting. “We couldn’t believe it, you know? We couldn’t believe it, we had like I said, 16 boxes,” recalled Roberts. “I managed to hold onto the family pictures, birth certificates, that kind of important stuff.”

Now Elijah is in school. “He’s got student of the month three times this year, two reading awards.” And lane is still in their lives.

“Me and Lij, and Lane, you know, we were Three Musketeers, and now we’re not,” said Roberts. “But having her come over once in a while and help out is a blessing too, you know, but I understand certain things, and you know, she couldn’t take so much either, you know what i Mean, it was hurting her too in different ways.”

A pain that is now a little eased. Roberts credits all of their hard work. And for those in a similar situation, or on the brink of it, he has some advice: Take full advantage of the resources available.

“Go in there with some self-respect, some dignity, and show them on your face that you know, ‘I’m serious. I’m not leaving here until I get some type of an answer.’ it still might be no, but the next time you come in, it could be yes.”

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