By Brenda Meadows
Having to deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19) is stressful enough, but if you are an adult with four children and are told to vacate your living space, it is a heavy burden to bear - especially if you have adequate resources for medical needs and lodging that is being disregarded. Such is the case of Angela Darlene Whitaker and her four children, whose move out date is April 20.
“I have Congestive Heart Failure, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Granulomatous Disease which is a form of MS and a autoimmune disease,” Whitaker said. “I've had a heart attack, kidney failure, multiple blood clots in my lungs and other extremities. I used to weigh well over 600 pounds but I lost half of that on my own. I used to be homebound and in a wheelchair and couldn't walk on my own and had to use a walker to get around. I've worked hard to get to where I'm at today with no help from gastric bypass or anything, I did it on my own.”
The extended stay property where she lives, for the moment, was suggested to her by the Taney County Women’s Crisis Center and OCACC (Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation). She was in an abusive situation and needed a home. Her rent is always paid with a voucher.
“I’ve been here a year, as soon as my lease is up on April 20,” Whitaker said. “I called legal aid for Taney County and they said I was definitely being done wrong and are taking me as a emergency case and I already have an attorney assigned.”
According to Jami Anderson, whose business ‘Kajun Kleaning’ has become “Jami's Heart Ministry - Being the Hands and Feet of Jesus,” her ministry focuses on providing help to people that live in extended stays. She furnishes homes for single moms or dads escaping abusive relationships and supplies other needs. It started when she listed the needs on Facebook and people responded. This has been going on for 14 years.
“I just let friends know when I have a home to do and they donate to my cause,” Anderson said. “There are several properties that are evicting renters without a reason. Some of them have never missed a payment and have even paid ahead of due dates.”
After posting the most recent rental cases spawned from the COVID-19 pandemic, Anderson told people about “legitimate families down here in Branson getting kicked out of their hotel rooms.”
“Landlords are still trying to evict tenants,” she said. “I have a whole list of people. I’ve been collecting money and paying their weekly rent. I just raised enough money for three families and four others are desperately needing help.”
Billiejo Zeigler has lived at an extended stay hotel for eight months and has not missed, or been late, to pay her rent. But she has to vacate her room. She is employed by Shorty Smalls and COVID-19 caused her to be laid off. Zeigler is waiting on her unemployment, and has nowhere to go. She has finished all the classes for career advancement through Jesus Was Homeless.
“I don't want a free handout,” she said. “I want to work. I don’t want someone to pay my bills.”
Ziegler, who has alopecia, said classes they attend and places where they work “tell us all the time that we are part of a family, but where are you now?”
Dakota Stewart and his wife Bobbie moved to Branson in the fall. They both had jobs but had to live in a motel just until they got on their feet. Then covid-19 hit, and they both lost their jobs. They need things for their children, including diapers and other baby items. The owner of the extended stay where they have been living told them if they can’t pay, they have to get out.
“He said the he will have the police escort us off of the property by Tuesday,” Stewart said. “We can’t even have family bring us food when we need it without getting threatened to be kicked out too. He is throwing a lot of us out and he doesn’t care what the news and Facebook said - that we can’t be evicted because of this virus. He told me extended stay motels don’t have to abide by the no eviction rule. And my kids can’t even play outside without getting yelled at and threatened to be kicked off.”
Stewart had one of churches in the area, through Anderson’s organization, provide funds for one more week of rent for his family. But, the days go by quickly and though Stewart has applied for jobs in the area, even with Amazon in Harrison, the timing may not be right.
“I’m a father trying to provide for his family,” he said.
Anderson said she has been literally gathered funds to pay for some families on the day they are to be evicted. “Then, tomorrow is a whole new day and it starts over,” she said. “I can tell you right now, next week if something doesn't happen, Branson will be filled with people living on the street.”
(The Branson Globe attempted to get comments from long term hotel managers, but none would respond or comment)