Fighting to stay: One local family's struggle with homelessness

  • Tuesday, June 24, 2014

For most people in East Cooper, the possibility of losing one's home seems remote, a problem seen in urban areas but rarely faced by those in this seaside community. But for one Mount Pleasant family, the nightmare of homelessness is all too real.

Raised on Johns Island, Henry Richardson and his wife Letesha moved to Mount Pleasant in order to pursue better educations for their six children, ages 2 to 12. “We want our kids to have the best education possible because we feel they deserve that,” said Henry. “We want them to have whatever it takes to get them further in life. I'm not judging our schools, but the inner city schools were not giving them the education they needed.”

Making their home in Mount Pleasant, the Richardsons were just like any other family. Henry worked as a painter, Letesha was in customer service, and the kids were adjusting well to their new schools.

According to Henry, the family's troubles began in December when they began receiving extraordinarily high utility bills, which he said were the result of malfunctioning electrical equipment and a water leak. Struggling to keep up, Henry and his wife soon found themselves expecting their seventh child, out of work and unable to keep their home.

“We were bouncing from hotel to hotel, not knowing where we'd get our next dime,” said Henry. “Food was taken care of with food stamps, but we had to travel from North Charleston, where the cheaper hotels were, to bring our children to school every morning here in Mount Pleasant.”

The cost of gas, car payments and other living expenses began to take a toll on the family as they fought to make ends meet. One of the children began saving his school lunches and collecting leftovers from other students to bring home for his family. It was at this point that Joanna Sarver, a nurse in Mount Pleasant, heard of the Richardsons' struggles and decided to help.

Joanna and her husband Charles began “Sunshine For Sammy,” an online charity site made available through YouCaring.com, to raise money for the Richardsons. Sunshine For Sammy is named for Henry and Letesha's son Samuel. The site received enough contributions to put the Richardsons in a motel in Mount Pleasant until the end of the school year, but the money raised soon dried up and the donations stopped coming.

Lending Henry a vehicle after his was repossessed, holding a fundraiser in her home and helping out wherever she can, Joanna has made it her personal mission to rally the community behind the Richardsons. “We cannot let this happen in our town. There is too much here to offer,” said Joanna. “If we can leverage the power of the community, this family's life can be tremendously different in a very short period of time. When it all comes down to it, it's really all about community.”

Through the efforts of the Sarvers and their fellow church members at Seacoast Church, Henry has been able to find work as a day laborer, but his income alone is not enough to get his family back on track. “My wife wants to work, but there's no daycare because we can't afford it,” said Henry.

“We're not looking for a handout. We just want some help so we can get back to doing things for ourselves.”

Letesha and the children are currently staying with her mother in a small home in downtown Charleston. While the family is receiving government assistance, food costs are still a major concern for the family. Entering her second trimester, Letesha faces several health concerns having lost 16 pounds in the past month.

Tasked with the expense of driving from job site to job site, Henry often resorts to sleeping in his truck rather than face the back-and-forth commute. “I work, and when I get a chance to sleep, I sleep. Then get up and do the same thing all over every day,” said Henry. “That's pretty much my routine now. Sometimes I just sit in my truck by the water. Maybe go down to the park. Just to kill time until it's time to go to sleep.”

While seeking assistance through the Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8, is an option, Henry and his family have found the prospect of remaining in Mount Pleasant less and less likely.

“It's impossible to find anything on Section 8 here in Charleston that's not going to be a place where we have to worry. We moved out here and we love it here in Mount Pleasant. It's peaceful. Everybody gets along,” said Henry. “But there is nothing out here and we really want to stay in Mount Pleasant because of the schools. We don't want to live where we have to worry about the children, somebody hurting them, or bullets flying through the house.” Section 8 housing is very limited in Mount Pleasant according to Joanna who remains optimistic.

“This is not a situation where we are just sitting back and waiting for people to rescue us. It's people fighting for a better life,” said Joanna. “It's just an extreme circumstance and I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that this community can rise up to the challenge.”

To make an online donation, visit the Sunshine For Sammy website at www.youcaring.com/sunshineforsammy. To learn other ways you can help, contact Joanna Sarver at 502-379-0336.

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