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‘Hope for the best and plan for the worst’

Working mother tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family after losing housing
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneJennifer Walker and her kids Abel, 5, Ryder, 6, and Austin, 13, with their dog Odie in Central Point.

The first time Central Point resident Jennifer Walker parked her Chevy Suburban on the side of a quiet street, covered her windows and piled warm blankets onto her service dog and her three sons — ages 5, 6 and 13 — it felt like the epitome of rock bottom.

Priding herself on being a hard worker, and juggling two jobs for the past 10 years, a recent layoff made it tougher to tread water than she would have liked.

Finally notified she’d soon be able to return to her second job, an eviction notice showed up on her front door — her landlord needed the property for a family member — just as she could almost see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

“The first night we slept in the car ... was very, very humbling. I thought I’d be able to figure it out. I never realized how much I took my house for granted up until that point. It was pretty scary,” she said.

“I felt a little bit hopeless, like a horrible parent, a failure … but I had to take care of business. I just decided I would take one day at a time and try to keep things as normal as I could for my kids.”

Walker said she never believed that people who have one and two jobs and are willing to work could end up homeless.

“Like a lot of people, I used to be one of those who would think homelessness was a choice and that they could change it,” Walker said. “I felt like, ‘OK, they’re homeless, they must be somebody who lives on the Greenway, doing drugs or something.’”

“My situation was that I went from working two jobs and getting by to getting a 90-day termination of lease. It was hard enough to find anywhere affordable to live here. I’d been laid off during COVID, so things were tight but I had a second job to fall back on. I thought things were mostly OK.”

Prior to being evicted, Walker began to embrace what she says has become her life philosophy since the pandemic began: “Hope for the best and plan for the worst.”

“Before we were out of our place, I was hoping for a miracle, obviously, but I started downsizing our stuff, cleaning out and packing up. I looked for safe places to park and got my camping gear together so we would be able to cook,” she said.

“When I was packing up, I had a bunch of boys’ clothes I wanted to donate to families in need. This is the first time I’ve been homeless with my kids, so I thought I would try to find something good in the bad and share what we could.”

In a twist of fate, Walker met a handful of community members prior to having to be out of her former rental who made her feel a little less alone in her situation.

Community advocate Debbie Saxbury has embraced the family and tried to help identify resources to get them into housing. Saxbury also collected some small donations for basic expenses and, eventually, deposits for housing.

In all her years of helping families in need, Saxbury said, it tugged at her heartstrings to meet someone in need, still thinking of others.

“The way I first came in contact with Jennifer, she wasn’t looking for help at all. She sent me a personal text asking if I knew anybody that she could donate kids clothing to,” Saxbury said.

“She wanted to give back to somebody in need. When I texted her back and ended up talking with her, she told me she was homeless, and it just really touched me that she would be having a tough time and be trying to help others.”

Saxbury said the most touching element of Walker’s story is seeing the mom strive to keeping things “as normal as possible for her kids.”

“It’s admirable. It’s hard as a single mom to juggle all the balls and keep up a positive front for those boys. This family is special, and I just hope to God we get a lead on a safe home for them,” Saxbury said.

Walker said she didn’t view herself so much as homeless as “in a tough spot.”

Still working and getting her kids to school, weekdays consist of a morning routine, meals together when schedules allow, school activities and family stuff.

While it’s less common to have to finagle camping gear for cooking, finding places to park and regularly seeking out opportunities to shower and do laundry, Walker said she’s focused on being positive about the family’s situation.

She expects to be back working both jobs by Nov. 29. Walker said her only obstacle will be finding affordable housing and figuring out deposits. Her job, while ultimately a work-from-home gig, will temporarily come with an office cubicle until she finds a place to live.

“I feel like your situation is going to only be as bad as you make it. Most parents, especially nowadays, tell their kids too much adult stuff. I can’t imagine telling my kids half the stuff I hear other adults telling their kids,” Walker said.

“My oldest knows a little bit more, and he figures it out a little quicker than I would like, but my two littles just think we’re camping and that we have a whole bunch of stuff setup for our next adventure. I want to keep life as normal, for their sake, as I'm able to.”

She added, "Things are a little crazy right now, but I know we'll be OK."

How to help

For updates, or more info, see gofund.me/724d713d

Contact Debbie Saxbury at 541-200-5246 or by email at dlsaxbury@gmail.com.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com