Last Christmas, Jeff and Tandy Chapman, and their two children – Kody, 15, and Samantha, 11 – spent their holiday in a tent. It was Jeff and Tandy’s second Christmas in a tent, but – in Jeff’s words – “much nicer than the previous year, because there wasn’t an ice storm, and the kids were able to visit.”
Although it was cold, last year’s Christmas brought the family a peek of sunshine and no rain, so they all cozied up and exchanged gifts within the tent. “It wasn’t ideal, but we still had a good time,” said Jeff. “We were just thankful to be together.”
The Chapmans became homeless in October 2016, after being struck with numerous hardships within one short month. In September 2016, Jeff’s mother passed away; he lost his job at an RV company, after it suddenly sold; and his family was given an eviction notice for being late on rent.
These circumstances led Jeff and Tandy to temporarily live in a tent – which moved from junk yards and parking lots, to Eugene’s wooded areas – while Kody and Samantha stayed with friends. Jeff received unemployment for a while, and worked numerous labor and landscaping jobs, but he had difficulty securing stable employment. “I have 28 years of experience in the RV industry, and I still couldn’t find a job,” said Jeff.
The Chapmans were placed on Lane County’s housing waitlist through First Place Family Center. “We knew the waitlist was long, and that many other families were waiting for housing, but we didn’t give up on it,” said Tandy. Everyday for two years, Jeff and Tandy rode miles on their bicycles to check on their housing status, pick up food boxes, and seek other resources for survival.
In September 2018, after two years of experiencing homelessness, the family finally got the call they’d been waiting for. A spot had opened in ShelterCare’s McKenzie Rapid Re-housing (MKRR) Program, which connects families to affordable housing, individualized case management, and temporary rent assistance while they get back on their feet.
The Chapmans were immediately matched with MKRR Case Manager Sam Heath, who helped them move into affordable housing. “Sam has been our angel through this whole process,” said Jeff. “She calls us, visits us weekly, and makes sure we’re staying on track.”
Jeff and Tandy are currently participating in Oregon’s WorkSource Program, which helps them navigate employment barriers, résumé and skill building, and provides one-on-one support as they search for long-term employment.“We would have none of this without Sam and ShelterCare,” said Jeff. “They encourage us to do better – and be better – and that’s what we’ll keep doing.”
The Chapmans are excited to celebrate this Christmas together with a meal of homemade baked beans, ham, and Cherry Delight, which has been a tradition in Tandy’s family for years. “We skipped a few years, but I’m excited to get it going again,” said Tandy. To top it off, they also plan to surprise Kody and Samantha with presents from their wish lists, which has been kindly sponsored by Oregon Community Credit Union (OCCU). Kody asked for a skateboard, and Samantha asked for art supplies. OCCU, and several other businesses, are helping ShelterCare brighten the holidays of nearly 50 families this year.
This Christmas Eve will mark 48 years since ShelterCare opened its doors as a small family shelter. Thanks to the community’s continuous support, today we serve over 1,500 individuals per year, which includes over 500 children and parents in our Housing Services for Families program.