Wednesday, June 10, 2009

They Lived in a Station Wagon: Lessons From One Family

A family from Copake Falls, NY lived in their car for two months and 11 days. Both parents were employed, but became homeless when their landlord went into foreclosure. From laundry to dinner meals, basic living expenses cost more when you don't have a home, according to Dennis and Pamela Marks.

Their story was featured in the April 2009 issue of All You magazine.

Dennis and Pamela Marks, plus five children, lived in a trailer. With the pending arrival of a sixth child, the family was outgrowing that home.

They sold the trailer and rented "a nice three-bedroom house with a yard." It was sweet set-up, until a three-day eviction notice arrived. The landlord had fallen behind on the mortgage payments, and the bank had seized the property. That was in May of 2007.

Finding a new -- and affordable home -- in three days was difficult. Very few people wanted to rent to a large family. "By then end of the third day, we had no more options --we slept in our old Ford station wagon that night," Pamela Marks told All You magazine.

Life in a Car:
With kids ages 4-16, the family slept in the parking lot of their employer. At times, the school-age children spent nights in the homes of friends, but on most nights the family slept in the station wagon. Finally after two months, the Marks were able to find an affordable home.

Life Lessons From Pamela Marks:

  • The homeless tax: Life costs more when you have less. For instance, the Marks paid about $200 per month to do the laundry. Likewise, meals at fast-food restaurants created a high monthly tab. "The kids hated it, but it was all we could afford," Pamela Marks said.

  • Appreciation: When they found a home, the family was grateful for small pleasures, such as stability, home-cooked meals and fresh vegetables. The children learned to be more compassionate and are eager to help others in need.

  • Ask for help: There were a variety of programs that could have provided the Marks family with shelter or assistance, but after being urned down by one program, the family stopped seeking help. Pamela Marks offers this advice for those facing financial trouble: "Wade through the bureaucracy to find the services that you need...Looking back, I wished we had reached out more for help."

  • Look for free activities: While they were homeless, Pamela and Dennis Marks entertained their kids with a wide range of free activities from parks, museums and libraries.


Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money -- a coming of age memoir about money -- and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.


Sonny said...

Ahem. Lots of landlords fall behind on mortgage payments because tenants stop paying rent. Just checked out and see all the deadbeats!

Here's the link

Tina Kubala said...

I am shocked they gave up on finding help from government or charitable groups after getting turned down once. Putting those kids through the experience of being homeless is terrible ad for lack of a few more phone calls. They may seem well adjusted, but the shame and insecurity of the experience changed who they are as people.

I feel strongly about this because my mom spend several summers in her teens homeless with her mom and siblings. Her dad would drop the family at state park for the summer and that was that. They lived in an army tent, rain or shine, all summer. It wasn't fun, it wasn't an appropriate temporary solution, but back then there wasn't anywhere to turn for help.

I hope those parents are saving for therapy for the kids.

James Ross said...

I think that Tina misses the point here in the fact that they were a family that went through a hard time together. It's not like dear old dad dropped them off in the woods, but they fell into a rough patch and worked through it as a team.

As such it sounds like they reflected on lessons learned, but as a whole it seems that they came out stronger and better able to appreciate the little things in life. Simply having kids that value a nutritious home-cooked meal over McDonald's is one of many blessings in disguise to be found in this tale.