There was Room at the Inn!

On a snowy afternoon last November, Open Hearth staff traveled to West Chester to meet with Barry and his family for a FIRM appointment. Barry, his fiancée Carla, and their ten-year-old daughter Alivia had utilized their first week of Gateway program support at a small hotel there. Before entering Gateway, the family was living in a cold home without heat or hot water, facing homelessness.

As if this weren’t enough, there was an added complication to the story:  Barry was living with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. A clean, warm place to live was invaluable to his prognosis. Barry’s social worker at the Chester County Cancer Center reached out to Open Hearth for help with emergency housing.

It was impossible to spend any time with the family and not sense the love and dedication they had for one another. Although Barry lived with chronic, debilitating pain, he still walked his daughter to school each and every day that he could.

Open Hearth’s staff knew they needed to deepen services for the family. This included extending Gateway housing assistance to pursue a permanently subsidized housing voucher. Program Coordinator Kristi Godwin took the lead role of case manager for the family while working in close partnership with staff from the cancer center. She coordinated the activities of the many organizations and community resources that would be needed to support Barry and his family. During one of their first meetings, Barry told Kristi that if something were to happen to him he wanted to make sure his family would be taken care of and housed. This became the family’s key goal. As documents were collected and an application submitted for a permanent housing subsidy, it quickly became apparent that the family needed to remain in the West Chester area. Barry’s doctors, Alivia’s school, and Carla’s job were all located in West Chester, and Carla had been employed for the past eleven years with the same company, working tirelessly to ensure her family had a steady source of income.

The little hotel room in West Chester offered the family a place to rest and temporarily call home while pursuing permanent housing options. The management and staff of the hotel went above and beyond to make sure the family was comfortable. They provided a daily hot breakfast and offered a private meeting space for Kristi and the family to meet regularly and do planning.

Gateway program monies were dispersed weekly to the hotel; however there was always a small balance left over that was needed to pay for the family’s stay. Week after week, agencies, churches, and other nonprofit groups helped with funds to pay the remaining balance.  Each time it appeared that the family would need to leave West Chester for a less expensive hotel, a little more money would be offered to pay the hotel balance in full.

As Christmas approached, an agency offered the family a Christmas tree.  It was beautifully displayed in their hotel room. Another group took up a collection and purchased decorations for the tree, while other organizations offered gift cards or money for food and small presents. Multiple people and organizations took part in bringing a real Christmas to the little hotel and its guests. Barry, Carla, and Alivia spent Christmas together as a family, creating memories to last a lifetime, knowing they were loved by others and not forgotten.

They were eventually approved for subsidized housing. Voucher in hand, the family found a beautiful rental in Downingtown. On February 7th of this year, Barry and Carla signed the lease for their new home. Once again people surrounded their family, offering furniture, home furnishings, appliances, school clothes and a few toys for Alivia.

Sadly, in the weeks and months following their move, Barry’s health continued to deteriorate. When all treatments had been exhausted, Hospice was brought in and served as a support to both Barry and his family.

Barry lost his battle this past June, passing peacefully in his home surrounded by family. He died knowing that his family had a place to call home and they wouldn’t be homeless again.