PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — If the past decade has taught Cynthia Johnson anything, it’s that poor health and financial hardships can hit anyone at any time. But the Lake Oswego resident never imagined that the struggles would leave her and her son without a home this winter.
Johnson, a cancer survivor with chronic fatigue syndrome, and her son Shane Johnson, a recent graduate of Lake Oswego High School, have been told they will be evicted from their Westlake-area home of nearly three decades on Jan. 5.
“We’re running out of time,” she says. “I don’t know where the miracle is.”
Johnson and her son have contacted social service agencies and reached out to friends, but so far they haven’t found anyone to take them in. At 84 pounds and in poor health, Johnson says she’s worried that her body won’t be able to handle sleeping outside in her 1995 Ford Windstar if the family can’t find shelter.
“I will die in the car,” she says.Getting by
Johnson, who battled breast cancer when her son was in elementary and middle school, was diagnosed in 2009 with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease can cause “profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity.” Symptoms may include weakness, muscle pain, insomnia and impaired memory or concentration, the Centers’ website says.
Johnson says she experiences constant pain and exhaustion, as well as debilitating flares that can leave her bedridden for days. She uses a mobility scooter to get around outside.
As a self-employed publicist, consultant and writer for many years, Johnson liquidated valuables to avoid foreclosure in 2009, when her financial troubles began. And as much as she could, she remained involved in her son’s school activities.
She taught Shane and his classmates about art, helped them learn computer skills and chaperoned trips to the Oregon Model United Nations conference and statewide orchestra competitions. She also served on school advisory committees throughout Shane’s elementary, middle and high school years, and was involved in a variety of civic and political activities.
As recently as year or two ago, the family was getting by. Johnson was working from home, and friends were helping cover her health insurance and medical bills — coordinating their efforts on a Facebook page called “Friends of Cynthia Johnson.” Shane Johnson was an active member of his high school leadership program; he graduated high school in 2014 and began studying at Portland State University Honors College that fall.
But then Johnson developed still-undiagnosed neurological issues that led to a week-long hospitalization in January 2016. And after missing mortgage and property tax payments, the Johnsons found out in April that their home was in foreclosure.
Shane Johnson says the news of the foreclosure caused his pre-existing mental health-related issues to worsen. And as the two struggled to care for one another, their finances grew more unstable.
This summer, they lost the financial support that they had been counting on to cover their health insurance.
“Our primary goal this year was to get her back to work or get help from others to get into (home) retention,” Shane Johnson says. “We just didn’t quite have enough time left before we ran out of money.”
The house was sold at auction Oct. 5, according to a public notice that listed missed mortgage payments, three years of back taxes and other liabilities. After going to court in November, Johnson and her son learned that they will have to be out of the home by Jan. 5.
Shane Johnson says that the health and financial issues that he and his mom have faced the past few years have led to isolation for both of them. He finds it difficult to ask people for help, he says, and sometimes people don’t understand the full extent of what he and his mom are going through.
“It’s hard to accept that this is your story and to reach out about it,” he says. “You want to be able to make it go away, and sometimes you can’t.”
Now that they’re preparing to lose the house, Shane Johnson says it feels a bit like losing a piece of their identity. They worry that without movers and a storage facility, they will have to leave behind furniture, family heirlooms and a lifetime of other possessions that won’t fit in their car.
Johnson and her son are unable to pack up the house on their own, so instead they devote their efforts to getting the word out about their situation, making meals and trying to keep the lights on.
In the meantime, the reality that they will soon leave the home that they thought Johnson would grow old in — a home she had hoped to one day pass down to her son — is still sinking in.
“I’ve lived here forever,” she says. “This was my Camelot… and it was supposed to be his.”