PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A large family is unexpectedly fighting to stay off the street after an accidental kitchen fire displaced them from their Portland home they were renting earlier this month.
Trena Harper, her partner Alfonso Holloman, their five children and dog are now staying in Harper’s parent’s two bedroom apartment in Tigard, sleeping on the floor.
The fire happened on March 8 at their home located on Se 153rd Ave. When contractors came to make repairs to the older home, they discovered asbestos coming out of the walls and it was deemed unlivable. In addition, the repairs may take months for the home which they do not own.
Now a family friend has helped organize a GoFundMe page to get the family back on their feet — at least temporarily. The campaign goal is listed as $5,000, which Harper said is to secure an Airbnb for the family for a month before they are able to find an affordable four-bedroom house to rent.
That goal is now at the $3,000 mark, but she said it’s going to be a trial to find the right place to move into as she describes the family as “low income.” Harper cares for the five children, who range in age from 4 to 14, and helps care for Holloman, who is a disabled veteran with some mental health issues, she said.
“We have a homeless problem, you know, so becoming homeless spontaneously just, I mean, it leads to those problems,” Harper said. “So we probably could use more than the $5,000. I mean we just wanted to be able to do something that was attainable. We’re not trying to get rich, we just need some help.”
Harper said because of the large size of the family and not being a domestic violence victim, there aren’t many shelter options available.
“I think the big thing is just kind of getting the story out that we kind of need help, but they don’t have a lot of help for families like ours in these types of situations,” she said. “I’m just hoping to meet that goal so that we can get into more stable, until we get to our next stable place.”
Harper said it’s been many years since she’d experienced homelessness, which before she was able to get assistance from shelters.
On top of everything else, Harper found out the stage 3 breast cancer she had been diagnosed with two years ago has returned, only six months into her recovery, and spread to her bones.
George Harper, Trena’s father, is himself a disabled Vietnam veteran. He was talking about his daughter’s troubled situation at Portland 4 Aerie in Tigard, the local branch of a national charitable non-profit, called the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
The organization’s Worthy President, Jonathan “AJ” Simmons, told KOIN 6 News he overheard George’s story and talked with him to see about finding help for the family.
“I heard the whole story and it just, you know, it was just really sad, in and all around. And so I asked George I said, hey you know, do you know how to set up a GoFundMe page? He wasn’t really savvy, didn’t know how to do that,” he said.
He then invited Trena and the family to Portland 4 Aerie, which is a social gathering place for Eagle members, but on certain days is also open to the public for meals available for purchase.
“And then we came to find out one of her daughters was having her birthday. Well this was after the fact, after they lost everything. So we got together and made a big huge stack of pancakes, put some candles on it, and the ladies that volunteer there and who cook brought it out, we all sang happy birthday to her,” Simmons said. “So I mean that definitely touched her but that’s the smallest type of thing I can do.”
Though Simmons said he also was not familiar with setting up a GoFundMe page, he eventually figured it out and put the page up for the family. He also runs a popular Facebook page, called Keep Portland Weird, and shared the GoFundMe site on there as well.
“We are very appreciative of him because we didn’t know how to do this or how to ask for help but he did. So we are really grateful for him and him setting this up,” Trena said.