LEWISTON, Maine — There were mornings last year when Anita Roundy was so scared and sad, she’d drive to the Walmart parking lot to sit and cry.
“My car was my little house,” the mother of five said.
For four months last year she, her husband of 21 years, Curtis, and their five children, ages 1 to 17, were homeless. They lost their three-bedroom Lewiston home to foreclosure in 2009 after he, a contractor, lost work.
They never lived on the street or in a homeless shelter but came close, Roundy said. They doubled up with friends.
“I would always try to bring myself to that place where I’d say, ‘I have my children, they’re healthy.’ Or ‘there are people in worse situations.’ Or ‘it’s just a house,’” Roundy said.
Before they lost their home he did home construction, she ran an ice cream shop on Bartlett Street.
“My husband builds and installs high-end kitchen counters,” Roundy said. “We had almost a year’s worth of work lined up. We ended up losing all the work” when the recession hit and homeowners canceled work orders.
Trying to survive, they went to their bank to renegotiate their mortgage. The loan officer came up with a plan that would increase their loan to 30 years instead of 13, and the monthly payment would be $500 less a month, Roundy said.
“We don’t know what happened, but our loan officer disappeared,” as did the favorable terms. A new loan officer called and asked them to come in. He didn’t explain the terms well, Roundy said.
“We were concerned, but Kiana was just born. She had a heart problem. I was like, ‘Sign the papers, let’s be done.’ So we signed a whole bunch of papers.’”
What they signed only saved them $150 a month, she said. They fell behind on their payments. In July a sheriff’s deputy served foreclosure papers.
“We had the money to make the mortgage that month,” Roundy said. “This lady Curtis had been working for withheld the last payment on a kitchen he custom built. He got the check the day the papers were served.”
He rushed a check to the bank. “The bank wouldn’t take the money. They said it was too late,” she said. With help from Pine Tree Legal, the family was allowed to stay in the home until June 2010.
They found a large home on Shawmut Street in downtown Lewiston. “The building was condemned. The roof was caving in,” Roundy said.
The property management company agreed to owner-finance in exchange for Curtis making repairs.
“It ended up more money than if we purchased a house the regular way, but we didn’t have equity or credit,” Roundy said.
The house needed more work than originally believed. Windowsills were rotted, the electrical system was a fire risk, the plumbing needed repair.
Family friends helped with the work, but the building wasn’t safe to live in. The property management company provided an apartment for three months, but then rented it out. In the fall of 2010, “we didn’t have any place to go,” Roundy said.
The family moved in with another family in Auburn for three months.
“All the girls slept in one room. My husband and I in another.” The baby, by then 18 months, slept with them. “Justin was in a closet sleeping on a cot.”
Not able to give their children gifts at Christmas that year was hard, Roundy said. In February they moved in with a Turner family for one month.
Roundy said her family is thankful for the friends who took them in, but it was hard to accept help. “Usually we’re the ones who give help.”
By March 2011 enough work was done to the Shawmut Street home to allow them to move there, although work continues.
During the months when they lived in their foreclosed home or doubled up with friends, “it was horrible. It was scary,” Roundy said. Sleepless nights were common. “We had two weeks where we had no idea where we were going to go. I was looking into the homeless shelter.”
Their oldest son, Justin, a senior at Lewiston High School, described life as “weird, not being able to do anything about things.” He focused on school work, maintained As and Bs, and tried to help.
“Me and my dad took this job with a landscaping company to make money. I would get up at one in the morning when it was snowing, shovel until 7:30, and go to school.” He tried to care for his sisters who “were really stressed out.” Some of his teachers knew what his family was going through, Justin said.
One day he got called to Mary Seaman’s homeless education liaison office. He shared the family’s situation. She called his mother, who wasn’t taking calls.
“I didn’t answer my phone anymore. I didn’t answer the door,” Roundy said. “A lot of crazy stuff goes through your head when you have the sheriff knock on your door and hand you papers you weren’t expecting.”
When losing a home, “you don’t want to be on the radar,” Roundy said. “You’re afraid that DHHS is going to say ‘You’re not a suitable parent,’ or the school is going to tell you ‘You’re living in Auburn so your children can’t come to Lewiston schools.’ You don’t know, so you don’t say anything.”
Justin told his mother Mary Seaman was all right to talk to.
“The teachers at Lewiston are wonderful 99 percent of the time,” he said.
Lewiston High School’s aspirations coordinator JoAnne Dowd helped with college applications.
Roundy and her husband were worried about how Justin would go to college, she said.
“This kid wanted to be a physics major since he was 9. We knew he could get into a good school,” but the family couldn’t even pay for college applications.
“We’ve never been in a situation before where we had no money,” she said.
Dowd told the family there were scholarships that could help and Justin is now a freshman at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., studying physics and music.
The family’s life is getting back to normal. Curtis Roundy is working with a carpenter on the coast.
After accepting help, Roundy said she’s surprised to learn how many “people have gone through this.”
It is embarrassing, she said, but can happen to anyone who loses an income.
“God forbid at some point you might be in a situation where you’re going to need help,” Roundy said. “We all need to be there to help each other.”
© 2012 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)
Distributed by MCT Information Services