North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness

One family truly thankful for the roof over their heads

BRUNSWICK COUNTY | After living in a camper doomed for the dump, Tina Mattoon is thankful she doesn’t have to sleep next to the toilet anymore.

That’s because on Tuesday, she moved into a three-bedroom mobile home with her four daughters. Even with no food, this Thanksgiving will be one to remember. And now, she can choose from two bathrooms. With doors.

“I’m happy to be in a home,” said Mattoon, who became homeless when her roommate kicked her and her children out. “I don’t have anything for Thanksgiving, but I have a house. That’s all that matters.”

Mattoon, a former waitress-turned-Bojangles’ worker, is part of a growing number of people losing their homes because of the slumping economy.

Last year, 67 families were homeless in Brunswick County, said Joe Cannon, executive director of Brunswick Family Assistance Agency, a figure he said represents about 20 percent of the county’s homeless population. He expects that number to climb when a new count is completed in January.

“I haven’t seen it this bad since the early ‘80s,” said Cannon, who has worked with non-profits for about 40 years. “We are seeing more and more people in crisis.”

Cannon said his agency averages five calls a day from people being evicted, or whose homes are in foreclosure. People are losing jobs or work hours. To get by, many are living in overcrowded homes or “couch surfing” – staying briefly with different relatives, he said.

Mattoon ended up in a camper in Calabash because she was kicked out of another mobile home where she and her daughters squeezed together under one roof with seven other people.

She tried to stay with her mom and dad, who live in a recreational vehicle parked at a camp site on the banks of a river full of marsh grass, but it was too crowded with her daughters.

Mattoon was forced to separate her family. Her three teen-agers ended up living with Mattoon’s estranged husband nearby and she took her 9-year-old, Christina, to the camper on that same site.

“I’m ready to get out of here,” she said, adding she was thankful to the owner for letting her live there before he hauled it to the dump.

On Tuesday, Mattoon waved her arms in the air as she moved out. She reveled in the fact that she would soon stretch her arms without touching the ceiling. She thought about how she would have privacy when she used the bathroom; how she would have heat; and most importantly, how she would be reunited with her oldest daughters, 15-year-old Tinesha; 14-year-old Deedee; and 13-year-old Alisha.

“We’ll be thankful to be together and that’s all that matters,” Mattoon said. “That’s probably going to be the best Thanksgiving because we’ve been separated for about a month.”

Her daughters have felt the monthlong separation.

“I miss her a lot,” Deedee said. “I’m used to being with her like every day.”

Mattoon also had Mary McNeely, with Southeastern United Care, to thank for the home. The company helps people with problems ranging from substance abuse to losing their homes. Mattoon was grateful to the mobile home owner, too. Bennie Ward not only had three sofas waiting inside the mobile home in Supply, but he gave them old mattresses he’d rescued while renovating the mobile home park. Oh, and he waived the first week’s rent.

McNeely found Mattoon and her daughters the home after looking all over Brunswick County for rental signs and money for a rental deposit.

“The first time I looked at it I was shocked so I had to go back and look at it again,” Mattoon said about her new home. “Nobody can kick me out of that.”

Mattoon’s father, David Bass, said her daughter had never been apart from her children.

“I’m glad she’s getting her kids back,” he said Tuesday, sitting outside her camper while she moved. “It breaks her heart her kids are not together.”

Later, Mattoon’s excitement was tempered by the typical problems of moving in to a new place. Within a few hours of leaving her old life behind, one of the toilets in her new home overflowed, teens fought over mattresses and complained about stinky purses. Suddenly, mom became mom again.

“Eeww. They stink,” said Deedee as the girls inspected a pile of purses sealed in a clear plastic bag. She crinkled her nose and patted her forehead.

“Just air them out,” her mother said, dumping them on the floor.

“This one smells like butt,” said another daughter, Alisha, dangling one by the strap.

Nothing like being home for the holiday.
Veronica Gonzalez
Author: Veronica Gonzalez
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