When Home is Anything But

It was sad to see the school bus stop at the motel. But that was where the kids were. They were in the motel where their parents had ended up in that long, draining odyssey through temporary places.

In the winter, the motels are available because the tourists aren’t flocking to snow-covered beaches. For $150 a week, maybe a little more, a family can move in and try to make a home.

Diane Hepburn put out a welcome mat for the holidays that said “Season’s Greetings.” She put artificial snowflakes in the windows. That was at a motel in South Kingstown, R.I., where a police officer showed up in response to a complaint that she had left her dog in her car in the cold.

She had to leave her dog in the car because dogs weren’t allowed in the rooms. She told the officer she would sneak the dog into the room once the motel manager went home.

The officer left and returned with Christmas gifts for her two young sons.

Sometimes, the cloud over her head is lifted by random kindness. Just a few days ago, she was wheeling a shopping cart from a supermarket to her temporary home in Peace Dale, R.I. She knew it was nuts. She also knew she had no choice. Her two kids were riding in the cart. Fortunately, her boyfriend’s sister saw the family in the shopping cart and gave them a ride.

Her boyfriend is with the Rhode Island National Guard in Iraq. He is due home next month. Maybe, she thinks, there will be a chance to at least begin to get her life back to normal when he returns.

But for now, she makes a lot of phone calls and checks the bus schedules and accepts crazy things like a road trip in a shopping cart as part of life on the fringe in Rhode Island.

She has found the Baptists a very generous group as she seeks whatever help she can get from wherever she can get it. The Baptists are among those she calls, along with other churches and community action agencies and service clubs. There is food, some money toward rent and sometimes a place to stay that is called emergency or transitional housing. She is now in a house in Peace Dale that is emergency housing. She is past the 30-day limit placed on her stay. She’s not sure what’s next.

She has a car. She has the car _ the one with problems that have to be fixed before she can get an inspection sticker. But she can’t afford the repairs so she got pulled over for driving a car without a valid sticker. The car is in an impound lot, which means it’s not available to get her to the one-week training session that is part of the new job she just got. So she doesn’t have the job anymore.

Hepburn isn’t whining. She even laughs a little about how absurd life can get in her situation. But it’s been tough. Sometimes, there is a lot of drinking and drug use and police presence at the motels. She is grateful that it usually happens at night, when her sons are asleep.

She knows where it all started. She knows she screwed up with the Internal Revenue Service. She makes no excuses, except that she simply didn’t know what some of her obligations were. It meant a serious money drain. She was evicted from a house she was renting in North Kingstown last September. That started her on the trail of the almost-homeless.

Hepburn is 41 and has an associate’s degree in criminal justice. She has worked two jobs at times. But she is not even close to finding something that she and her kids can truly consider theirs.

She has talked with her boyfriend in Iraq by phone. She has told him she’ll be glad when he gets back home. She says she just wishes she knew where home will be.

(Bob Kerr can be reached by e-mail at bkerr (at) projo.com.)