One Paycheck Away: Manuel and Heather

Homeless but Hopeful

"We've always struggled, but we've always managed to keep our heads above water. Slowly, we started losing things," says Heather. "Currently, our financial situation is really rough. Neither my husband or myself are working right now. We are

looking for work full time, and it's just a real struggle to try and live in the RV."

 

"We became homeless when my wife got sick. She was having panic attacks. She couldn't work, and I stopped to take care of her and my kids," explains Manuel, Heather's partner. "With me and her not working, we couldn't pay rent, couldn't keep the lights on, couldn't keep gas, so we had to vacate." For the past year, they and their four children have been living in their cramped RV.

 

Heather and Manuel thought that if they bought the RV they would save money, but the upkeep has been expensive. "My life on a bad day is not having money to do laundry, so the kids having to wake up without clean clothes, not having money so we have to take a cold shower, not having gas so we're stuck on the side of the road with no gas," Heather shares through tears. "I never realized how much a house or an apartment meant to us, until we didn't

have it anymore."

 

The oldest two children, Leiana, 14, and Josh, 15, sleep on the couch. Heather, Manuel and their youngest daughter, Kaylani, 10, sleep on the ledge above the driver's and passenger's seats, and Keelee, 11, usually sleeps on the floor. They keep their food cold in a cooler and have a tiny cupboard where they store their clothes.

 

"It's just a huge fear of mine that my kids will be taken away, because I cannot provide for them," Heather reveals. "I lost a lot of my pride, dignity, and when you lose things like that, you lose a lot of yourself." She says that her children also have been affected by the situation. "A lot of their schoolmates maybe see them over the weekend in the RV and ask, ‘What are you doing?' and my kids will say, ‘Oh, we're going camping.' We're always camping."

The children share their feelings.

 

"I get sad about living in the RV because sometimes when we go home, we don't have anywhere to rest our heads until we go to sleep," Kaylani says. "Sleeping in the RV with my mom and dad is really hard, because every morning I would get up and my legs hurt because I'm cramped together and there's not enough space for us."

 

Fifteen-year-old Leiana, says, "My grades last year were really bad. They were all Ds and Fs. There's, like, no electricity in the RV, so it's hard to do homework when you get home. It's hard to concentrate when everybody's trying to do everything at once in the RV." Her classmates have even made hurtful comments to her. "I got in a fight with my friend. I said something to her, and she's like, ‘Shut up you homeless nomad,' and after that we stopped talking,'" she says.

 

Josh, the only son, says kids treat him badly too. "There's this kid that I used to know. He started running his mouth saying, ‘You're homeless. You're just going to stay like that for the rest of your life,'" he says. "It was hard. I didn't know what to do or say about it. It made me feel like I wasn't there."

 

Keelee knows that her parents are trying hard. "Sometimes they ask us if they're bad parents. We always tell them, ‘You do your best, and that you try very hard to get back on your feet and try to find jobs, and try to save up money to get a house,'" she says.

 

Kaylani also recognizes that her parents work hard to keep their children happy. "Because we don't have a lot of money, it's really hard for my mom and dad to keep us strong, because my mom and dad see families walking around and having good times, and we can't do that because we're mostly driving around in our RV and looking for somewhere to stay at night," she says, crying.

"Have you been bad decision makers? Did you contribute to being in this predicament?" Dr. Phil asks Manuel and Heather.

"No," Manuel says.

"I don't really feel like my illness is something I chose," Heather says, noting that she has an anxiety-panic disorder.

Dr. Phil points out that Manuel and Heather are nice people and loving and caring parents, but they need to answer some tough

questions. He addresses Manuel. "You quit the only paying job your family has, to come home and take care of her," Dr. Phil says. "But you can't really fix this problem."

 

"No," Manuel agrees.


"You go out and try to work all the time," Dr. Phil points out. "You had one job for nine months, and you quit before you had another one. Then you had a second job for three years, and you quit to take care of her. Then you had another job and got fired from it because you were late and another job you got fired from because you were late." Dr. Phil can't understand how Manuel can arrive at work late. "If this is your only job, if this is your priority, don't you need to make sure that you wake up and get to work?" he asks.

 

Manuel explains that once he gets up, he has to pack up the RV and situate the kids so they are safe when he is driving, which can take a long time. 

"So you have to get up earlier," Dr. Phil says.

"Right," Manuel agrees. "Two hours earlier, probably."

"I'm not saying it's easy," Dr. Phil says.

"This has been pretty tough for y'all," Dr. Phil says to the kids. The kids agree. 


Dr. Phil tells the family that when he was 15, he was

homeless too. "My dad and I had to split up from the rest of our family because we couldn't afford for everybody to stay together. We spent a number of nights in our car, and then we found a room at the YMCA for $5 a week, and he and I lived there until we got an apartment that was close enough to school for me to walk. We got that in September,
and we didn't have any electricity until December," he remembers. "I've been there, and it does get better. You do get through it … You guys have got to not give up hope in this situation."

Dr. Phil tells Heather that he will provide her with help in order to eliminate her panic and anxiety. He also tells the family that the folks at the Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation have arranged for the family to live in a three-bedroom, two-bath town home in their home town.
And Posh Living is providing the family with furniture for the bedrooms, kitchen, dining room and living room.

 

"We're going to get real busy helping you get a job," Dr. Phil says to Manuel.

 

Dr. Phil explains to the family how the housing situation works. "This is not a charity situation. It's not something where we're giving you something for nothing," he says. "You're going to be paying for this place based on your ability to do

so, and right now, that's nothing, and that's OK. But as you begin to get a paycheck and you begin to get on your feet, and you begin to get going, then adjustments will be made."

Heather breaks down and cries. The family is covered in smiles.