LA GRANDE — Four months ago, a family of six lived in a single motel room, hoping the small space — crowded with clothes, food, toys and craft supplies, four little girls and their mother and father — was only temporary.
In September, the Fitzpatricks moved into a new home and found themselves with plenty to be thankful for as the holiday season nears.
“It feels so amazing not to be stuck in a tiny room,” Kristina Fitzpatrick said.
Kristina and her husband, James, along with their daughters, Eliza, Meriel, Aileen and Noranna, were evicted from their rental in February after new landlords failed to get Housing and Urban Development Approval before giving the keys to the family. Without the HUD subsidy, paying rent was difficult, and after falling too far behind, the family was kicked out. They stayed with friends and family for a short time, then moved into a room at La Grande’s Orchard Motel.
James works in construction, and made just enough to pay for the $320 weekly rent at the motel. The couple attempted to find housing, but with an eviction on their record, they were denied.
It was the kindness of Kristina’s aunt, Linda Hansen, that got them out of the motel room. Hansen, a real estate agent, found the three-bedroom house in La Grande on Fruitdale Lane for the family to live in. Now the family can spread out. The four girls still share a bedroom as the family continues to unpack, but Kristina and James have a space of their own.
“It is great to live in a house out here. It’s so quiet,” Kristina said. “And the girls are so excited to each have her own bed.”
The family also is thankful for the new home because it allows them to be more financially stable, Kristina said. With a large refrigerator and kitchen, they don’t have to worry about food spoiling or only buying what they can make in a motel room. James has an easier time getting to work because of the support they received from a family and friends for getting the girls to school, so he doesn’t have to take off as much time at work.
The family again secured HUD approval, with Community Connection of Northeast Oregon covering the rent for the first six months. James and Kristina also took a class that provided financial advice to give them a better chance of finding another rental, although Kristina said they have no plans of leaving anytime soon.
“It shows we are doing everything possible to help ourselves as renters,” Kristina said.
There still are a few issues to overcome with the move.
The youngest girl, Noranna, attends La Grande Head Start preschool, a 10-minute drive from their home. However, because the family has only one car, Noranna sometimes is unable to get there. The older girls take a bus to school, but the bus to Head Start does not come to the area to pick up the youngest. To keep Noranna from falling behind, Kristina has utilized her crafting skills to create activities and toys to help teach her daughter the alphabet and colors, in addition to getting activity books from the Center for Human Development and totes with learning materials from Cook Memorial Library.
When the family was living in the motel, Kristina said she would like to give back someday, once their situation improved. Even though she can’t monetarily give back yet, she said she refers people to services that might be of help to those in a similar situation. With all of the family’s items out of storage, she said they plan to donate what they don’t need anymore and she will do her best to ensure the items go to a non-profit organization.
Kristina said she feels blessed by the people who have reached out to them during this time, including her aunt and a family friend — Diana Breese, whom the family calls Mama Dee — plus organizations such as local churches, CCNO and CHD.
Not having to celebrate the holidays in a motel room is perhaps the biggest blessing of all.