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A family dilemma

Kristopher Mantlo is a Navy combat veteran who says he never minded camping before, but his perspective has changed since he was forced to move his wife and five kids into a small tent in recent weeks.

The only tent campers in sight at Valley of the Rogue State Park campground Wednesday, the family was days away from being forced to leave due to state camping regulations that prevent longterm stays.

Braving winter’s chill with a small pile of donated sleeping bags, blankets and a tiny heater, Mantlo and his wife, Elizabeth Mantlo, moved from the Rogue Valley to Lincoln City a few years ago for the promise of affordable housing and job security.

Then their landlord in Lincoln City decided to move back into the house they’d been renting, right about the same time Kristopher Mantlo was let go from his job at a cellphone store.

An aging family member in Rogue River offered them a place to stay in exchange for some help, and the relative’s landlord said they could stay while they found a place of their own.

But two weeks after moving back, the couple and their five sons, ranging in age from 3 to 17, were told they had to find another place to live.

“The landlord said we had too many people,” said the father.

“Our family was too big, and we couldn’t stay overnight anymore, after he had said it would be OK.”

With a 7-year-old who has autism, and who can often be disruptive, the family couldn’t stay at a shelter. With limited funds, they opted for a $19-per-night tent spot rather than a yurt or a hotel room.

Both started new jobs within days of arriving in the Rogue Valley, but paychecks that should start trickling in next week will go toward propane, food and gas money to travel between work in Medford and schools in Rogue River.

The family has been sleeping outside in freezing temperatures for the past two weeks. Every so often they run the heater in their van, “to get everybody warmed up,” said Elizabeth Mantlo, then they crawl into sleeping bags and turn on their small camping heater.

“When everybody is ready to start dropping off and they’re tired is when we come out of the car and get in the sleeping bags,” said the dad.

“With all of us in the tent, the body heat helps. We turn the heater on and fall asleep, then the fuel runs out by about 4 a.m. and it starts getting cold again. Then we wake up and turn it back on. It costs about $3 to $5 a night to try to stay warm.”

A positive outlook is a must for the parents. Kristopher said he felt “really, really blessed” to find the job he did, at Ashley Furniture.

“I was lucky to get the job. I’m excited for that opportunity. Things are going to get better. Maslow gave us sleeping bags that are rated for 32 (degrees), and we only had one day that was 25 degrees — two days before Thanksgiving,” he said.

“Somebody always has it worse, right?”

Even with the brisk temperatures and so many roadblocks, the couple smiled as their sons played near the campground Wednesday. Kristopher gave up his coat when his wife began to shiver. Their 3-year-old, fighting off a cold, slept inside the family’s van.

Central Point resident Debbie Saxbury, who runs a community Facebook page, met Kristopher Mantlo when he started to work at Ashley Furniture. Saxbury, who is known for helping families in need, was floored to learn that the family was living in a tent.

Saxbury is promoting a GoFundMe campaign (www.gofundme.com/f/working-family-of-7-needs-short-term-help) that will be used for housing, heating and fuel needs. A program available for veterans, for which Mantlo is eligible, will match funds to be put toward a house.

“The entire family is really nice,” Saxbury said. “No one complains. The kids are all happy, nice kids. I just think of them sitting in that van trying to stay warm.

“We help so many people in our community who aren’t trying to better their situation, and this family is working so hard. They both had jobs as soon as they moved back. I can’t think of a family who deserves our help more than this one. It’s so sad to me that they have no other options than to sleep outside in a tent in the middle of winter.”

Saxbury said she would post specific donation requests — and possibly some comfort items for Christmas — on her community Facebook page, “Central Point - What’s Happening Around Town.” She said she was hopeful someone could offer a housing lead.

“The best Christmas for this family would be to find a place to live. If they could find somebody that would defer the deposits, we could get enough together for rent,” she said.

Mantlo said his family would be OK, no matter what.

“I am really excited for the opportunity I have with my new job. If we can just get by for a little longer and keep everyone warm. We aren’t asking for a handout, just some propane and firewood and a little help with gas money would mean a lot to us,” he said, noting that the family was grateful when a pair of local restaurants offered hot meals recently.

“We just happened to hit about five major snags all in the same month. We’re really blessed we got jobs. I’d get a second job if I could, but I have to be able to watch the kids so she can work. She can’t watch all the kids and cook a meal out in the cold and keep them all safe at the same time,” he said.

“The irony is it’s actually harder, and a lot more expensive, to live like this. It’ll all get much better when we find a place. But everything is going to work out.”

As of Friday evening, the gofundme campaign had raised $1,792 toward a $5,000 goal.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Kristopher Mantlo watches his sons Kristopher (11) and Zakary (8) play games on their phone in a tent they’ve been living in at a campsite at Valley of the Rogue State Park Thursday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneElizabeth Mantlo hugs her son outside their van at a campsite at Valley of the Rogue State Park Thursday afternoon.