Once Homeless, Family Feels 'Blessed To Wake Up Another Day'

Nov 28, 2014
Originally published on November 28, 2014 7:16 am

In 2007, Franklin Gilliard and his wife, a teacher's aide named Sherry, started their own business: a driving school. Shortly after, they were hit by the recession.

The couple worked hard to stay afloat, but despite their efforts, they found themselves drowning in past-due bills and late notices and became homeless in 2013.

"We had the car repossessors there. We had the bank knocking on the door. You just feel like you're a prisoner in your own home," says Franklin, 46.

"You would never think that that would be your routine — looking out the peephole before you walk outside every day. Now, since that has happened, I can't even hear a knock without my heart jumping," says Sherry, 42.

The couple called the bank to say they needed help with their loan because they started getting behind on the mortgage, but they could not dig themselves out of debt.

"Before you knew it, we were homeless," Sherry says. "I remember going to REI and looking at tents that would hold a family of five. And then I remember at the homeless shelter, when they escorted us to our room, I remember laying on a bottom bunk and looking up at the springs that you look at on a bunk bed. And I remember saying to myself, 'How did I get here?' "

She says living at the homeless shelter caused her some embarrassment, and she would try not to be recognized while they were staying there. For example, when her coworkers would talk about volunteering to feed families at the shelter, she would tell Franklin they couldn't stay for the meal.

"I would tell my husband, 'We cannot be here for Sunday dinner because the colleagues from my job are going to be serving food,' " she says.

Franklin and Sherry now have transitional housing and are working to find a permanent home. Franklin is training to be a certified nursing assistant.

"Now we have at the dinner table the circle of thanks and each one of us go around and we say what we're thankful for. Our boys, they're at the stage in which they're thankful for their Pokemon cards," Sherry says. "But we are thankful that we can come together with our food, with the lights on, with the heat on and knowing that we are there to be blessed to wake up another day."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Allison Davis and Eve Claxton.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's Friday, and that means it's time again for StoryCorps. Today a conversation from Tacoma, Washington. In late 2006, Frank Gilliard and his wife, Sherry, started their own business, a driving school. Then came the recession, and they found themselves drowning in past due bills and late notices. The couple became homeless in 2013. Sherry and Franklin sat down at StoryCorps to talk about what that's been like.

FRANK GILLIARD: We had the car repossessors there. We had the bank knocking on the door. We just felt like you're a prisoner in your own home.

SHERRY GILLIARD: You would never think that that would be your routine - looking out the peephole before you walk outside every day. Now, since that has happened, I can't even hear a knock without my heart jumping.

F. GILLIARD: We did call the bank and tell them that we needed some help with our loan 'cause we start on getting behind on our mortgage.

S. GILLIARD: But we just could not even dig with a shovel out. Before you knew it, we were homeless. I remember going to REI and looking at tents that would hold a family of five. And then I remember at the homeless shelter, when they escorted us to our room, I remember laying on a bottom bunk and looking up at the springs that you look at on a bunk bed. And I remember saying to myself, how did I get here?

F. GILLIARD: (Laughter).

S. GILLIARD: You know, I remembered walking to the shelter after work at school and, you know, the school bus is pulling up, and I knew the school bus driver. And we were pulling my hood over my head 'cause I was embarrassed. I didn't want her to see me, you know? Or a colleague says, we're going to go volunteer and we're going to feed the families, and it would be at my shelter. And I would tell my husband, we cannot be here for Sunday dinner because the colleagues from my job are going to be serving food.

F. GILLIARD: We're living in transitional housing right now.

S. GILLIARD: Now we have at the dinner table the circle of thanks and each one of us go around and we say what we're thankful for. Our boys, they're at the stage in which they're thankful for their Pokemon cards. But we are thankful that we can come together with our food, with the lights on, with the heat on and knowing that we are there to be blessed to wake up another day.

MONTAGNE: That's Sherry Gilliard with her husband Franklin at StoryCorps in Tacoma, Washington. Franklin and Sherry are still working to find permanent housing. Their conversation will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. And now a follow-up to last week's StoryCorps. We got an enormous response to the conversation between Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez. They were the two workers at an assisted living home in California who stayed behind and took care of abandoned residents after that nursing home abruptly shut down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAURICE ROWLAND: There was about 16 residents left behind. And we had a conversation in the kitchen, what are we going to do?

MIGUEL ALVAREZ: If we left, they would have nobody.

MONTAGNE: Thousands of you commented on Maurice and Miguel's story making one of the most popular StoryCorps interviews ever. Kathryn Munson on npr.org had this to say, driving this morning into work with my 11-year-old son in the car listening to the story and these men - my son says, mom, they did the right thing. Thank you, Maurice and Miguel, for teaching my boy what a true man looks like. To find out what Maurice and Miguel are doing now, check out the StoryCorps podcast. You can get it on iTunes and on npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.