Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct inaccurate information. New Hope for Families Executive Director Emily Pike said while the shelter is full, her program has funds to put local families in motel rooms if they can't find any other place to stay. New Hope is not turning away families in need, but would not be able to put the Reed family in a motel because they are not considered local to Bloomington.
It was noon on Tuesday and Katie Norris had about run out of options. She stood outside her Hotels for Homeless office taking long pulls off a Marlboro in one hand and the straw extending from a McDonald's Coke in the other.
She gave up soft drinks a while ago, but it had already been a long and difficult day. "This tastes soooo good," she said.
During the previous 24 hours, Norris had been trying to find temporary housing to accommodate four families with children her program had been paying to house at a Bloomington motel.
"This is the first time in three years we have put unhoused children outside," she said.
The discount rate is $74 a night for a room with two beds. But because of a $2,500 unpaid bill, the families had to leave this week.
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One moved on to New Hope for Families' shelter, which expanded this year, is full and has a waiting list.
A young couple with an infant and 3-year-old went to stay with friends who risk losing their Section 8 housing by allowing them to live there.
A single mother with three children under the age of 11 was trying to find someone who would let them stay a few days.
Then there's the Reed family, Nathaniel, Alicia and their four kids, who range in age from 7 to 13. They are on waiting lists at eight family shelters around the area, all of them full.
"Every one of these families was sleeping outside," Norris said. "They were referred to me by DCS (the state's Department of Child Services) and other agencies when they had no other options."
'We'll figure out something'
The Reeds packed all their belongings into their 2004 Chevrolet Equinox Tuesday and drove away from the motel at check-out time. For two weeks, this had been home.
With no place to go, they called Norris and arrived at the south-side Bloomington office for the motel room program and a nearby shelter for men called Robin & Trisha's House.
Three of their children are temporarily housed with godparents. Twelve-year-old Kylen has some special needs and has stayed with his mom and dad during most of their weeks without a place to call home.
Norris sent the parents to McDonald's with cash to get some lunch to bring back; they hadn't eaten that day. Kylen ordered two McDouble hamburgers and a large order of fries; he handed a few over to Norris as they all dined in her office.
She had posted the plight of the unhoused families on social media, asking for financial support to keep them in a motel and off the streets. But unlike in the past, the response was minimal. There was no flood of offers to help.
People didn't step up like in the past. Norris didn't have an explanation, but it's making her work harder.
"I have no idea what's happening, but I have faith we can work this all out," Norris said. "This family will not lose their vehicle or their child, and they will not sleep outside tonight. We'll figure out something."
In the early morning hours Tuesday, she posted a bleak update on the Hotels for Homeless (H4H) Facebook page.
"I am broken, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. In 10 hours I will watch 6 children be put on the streets in my home town and I couldn't save them. If anyone cares to attempt to restore my faith in humanity and this community, give it your best shot."
When she left her office two hours later on Tuesday afternoon to pick up her son at school, a man who overheard her talking with the Reeds handed them a $100 bill for another night under a roof. One more night.
'Then it all fell apart'
The Reed family was living in Florida when their landlord sold the house they rented. They moved from there to Medora, and Nathaniel Reed worked independently as a roofer.
"Then it all fell apart overnight," 35-year-old Alicia Reed said.
Her husband was making decent money until a debilitating back injury kept him out of work for months, depleting the money they had been saving to buy a house. "I worked my ass off until that happened, every day," the 30-year-old said. "Saving for the future."
He put off back surgery because they had no insurance, but finally had the spinal operation five weeks ago. He walks with a cane and has applied for Social Security disability. It may be months before he hears back.
They lived in a tent in the Hoosier National Forest after the operation until they exceeded the 14-day camping limit and had to leave.
They couldn't continue living outside with Kylen and risked losing him to foster care if they didn't find somewhere to stay. "We had no place, nothing, and they were going to take him," Alicia Reed said.
"I texted Katie and she called me right back. She said, 'You guys have a place to go.' She rescued us."
They moved into a motel room, thankful for the amenities. The four unhoused families staying there looked out for one another. Since the Reeds have a car, which is on the verge of being repossessed, they provided transportation and ran errands.
With the motel days behind them, the Reeds need a stable place to stay until Dec. 15 when they will move into a home. They've been approved for a three-bedroom Section 8 townhouse in Bloomington.
Kylen is looking forward to starting classes at Highland Park Elementary in 2023. A new year. A new start.
His mom said not knowing day to day where they will sleep and what they will eat is hard. She worries about and misses her daughter, Heaven, and sons, Nathen and Ethan.
Two more weeks, she said. Just two more weeks.
"This is the longest we have ever been without our other kids," she said. "It's tearing our lives apart."
She said the stigma of being homeless stings. "I have never been disrespected as much as I have since I've been homeless," she said. "I never realized how nasty and mean people can be. To treat other people like we're nothing."
Editor's note: Bloomington's Hotels for Homeless initiative is raising money to pay for a motel room on Christmas Eve for every person in Bloomington experiencing homelessness. To find out more or to donate, go to: https://www.h4Hbloomington.org.
Contact H-T reporter Laura Lane at email@example.com or 812-318-5967.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Bloomington shelters at capacity, hotel program without adequate funds