When Living Out Of A Car, It's Hard To Feel At Home

Aug 22, 2014
Originally published on August 22, 2014 8:25 am

About a decade ago, Kris Kalberer left her job as a retail manager to raise her kids and care for her elderly mother. For a while, the family did well on her husband's income. Then he lost his job.

Their finances spiraled out of control. They lost their house in March 2011, and since then, their lives have become transient. They stayed in motels, or with friends. Currently they live in their car.

"When the rain comes down, or it's cold and the inside of the windows ice up, it's very confusing and lonely," Kalberer says on a visit to StoryCorps with her teenage daughter Erika.

Erika is 17 and wants to go to college. She says she worries, though, about whether she will be able to get in.

"I've had to adjust the way I do things completely for school," Erika says. "I try to go to the library to do my homework, but sometimes that's just kind of impossible. Like, we're not near one or we don't have enough gas to get to one. And that kind of screwed up my GPA and any chances of getting into colleges I would want to get into. I worry about that a lot."

Kris Kalberer says as a mother, she feels like she should be able to fix things. "I've been able to fix everything else, but this. ... I'm having a hard time fixing. And I'm disappointed that I can't."

Erika doesn't blame her mother, though. "You tell me that I have my life ahead of me, but I think that you do too," she tells her. "I have no idea what I'd be doing with myself if you weren't around."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar and Eve Claxton.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's Friday - time for StoryCorps which often brings us voices we rarely hear. Today - homeless family in Seattle. In 2008, Kris Kalberer was raising her kids while her husband worked at the home loan giant Countrywide. When that company collapsed in the mortgage crisis, he lost his job. The family's finances began to spiral out of control, and they lost their home in 2011. Since then, they have stayed with friends and in motels but not anymore. Here's Kris and her teenage daughter Erika.

KRIS KALBERER: You and I and your dad and Jack and the dog - we sleep in our car. When the rain comes down or it's cold and the inside of the windows ice up, it's very confusing and lonely. One time, we were all asleep and a car pulls up perpendicular to us and turned their brights on and started yelling hey over and over again. And it turns out it's some high school kids waking us up to see who's in the car and what we're doing. I don't think they realized it was a family sleeping in a car. And I just felt ashamed. How is it to be around your friends?

ERIKA KALBERER: I mean, we've been living in our car for over a year now. So I'm pretty sure some of them kind of have a hunch. There's only so long you can lie without them, like, suspecting. But I don't really want them to, like, pity me. And I've had to adjust the way I do things completely for school. I try to go to the library to do my homework, but, sometimes, that's just kind of impossible - like, we're not near one or we don't have enough gas to get to one. And that kind of screwed up my GPA and any chance of getting into colleges I would want to get into. I worry about that a lot.

K. KALBERER: Erika, I don't think sometimes you know how strong you are. You are an extremely bright young woman, and you can go to college. And you will go to college.

E. KALBERER: You tell me that I have my life ahead of me, but I think that you do, too. And I have no idea what I'd be doing with myself if you weren't around.

K. KALBERER: I think this whole thing has taken us for a spin. And this is one thing, as a mom, I didn't expect I'd have to try to fix. I've been able to fix everything else but this - I'm having a hard time fixing. And I'm disappointed that I can't.

GREENE: That's the voice of Kris Kalberer and her daughter Erika in Seattle. Their conversation, like all StoryCorps interviews, will be archived at the Library of Congress. Hear more on the StoryCorps podcast. You can find it on iTunes and at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.