TERRE HAUTE — A year ago, 32-year-old Brittany Cahill owned a $185,000 home, drove an Eclipse Spyder and operated her own business.
Today, she is homeless, and she and her two children, Krystian and Cheyenne Mason, live in the Bethany House emergency shelter. “If you would have told me a year ago that I would be in a homeless shelter, I would have laughed in your face,” she said in a recent interview in the Bethany House resident kitchen.
Typical of so many Americans, she lived beyond her means and didn’t save. “I was living the American dream, but I was doing so week to week,” she said.
When times got tough, her business closed, she lost her home and eventually her car — and now, she and her family must rebuild their lives. “I think it’s important for people to know that this can happen to anyone,” said the Louisville, Ky., native, who moved to the Wabash Valley in July.
The climb back up
Intelligent and highly motivated, Cahill doesn’t plan to be homeless for long. She’s working the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift as a waitress at Denny’s; she’s taking full-time classes at Ivy Tech Community College and is resuming studies to become a registered nurse; and she’s been approved for temporary housing/utility assistance through a program that uses federal stimulus funds.
She’s been searching for housing and also taking care of Krystian, 13, a student at Chauncey Rose Middle School, and Cheyenne, 11, a student at Franklin Elementary.
Cahill is doing all of this without a car, although she hopes to have one soon. She acknowledges she’s a little sleep-deprived these days. “I’m kind of an overachiever,” she said.
To get around, she usually is able to find a ride to her destinations. Typically, her boyfriend takes her to work at night, and a Denny’s manager takes her back to Bethany House in the morning.
“I have to walk once in awhile,” she said.
It’s been a humbling, even embarrassing experience, Cahill said. She never expected to be waitressing tables again.
But at the same time, the family has learned what really counts in life. “My children have learned that Xboxes and go-carts aren’t what’s important. Even though we’re in a homeless shelter, we still have what’s important … family. The love, the togetherness. If I were to be separated from my children, I’d probably just give up. That would probably be my breaking point.”
Despite the radical change in lifestyle, her children “are supportive and so understanding,” she said.
A helping hand
Last summer, Cahill and her two children left Kentucky and moved to Clinton, where her boyfriend’s parents live and offered them a place to stay. “I really appreciate the time they let us stay,” she said. But, after awhile, “They didn’t have the room or financial means to help us.”
While Cahill does have family in Kentucky, no one was in a position to assist them, she said.
She also moved because the job market wasn’t good in Louisville, and she thought it would be better here.
Cahill has been divorced from the children’s father for about 51/2 years. He lives in Louisiana and the children don’t have much contact with him, she said.
In December, Cahill and her children moved to Bethany House, which offers a 120-day program, although it allows extensions under certain circumstances.
“It’s definitely comfortable, but there is a rigorous schedule,” Cahill said. There are curfews, chores, mandatory meetings and rules.
For example, those doing laundry must use cold water until after 2 p.m. because the Bethany House Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen needs the hot water. During the day, adult residents are expected to keep busy with job searches, appointments or assigned chores, although in Cahill’s case, she does have a job.
“They’ve got it down to a science here. They obviously know what they’re doing,” Cahill said. The rules are there for a reason and “it makes things run smoothly.”
School-aged children enroll in school and participate in the Ryves Youth Center at Etling Hall after-school and summer programs.
Cahill and her children sleep in a small, upstairs room — she has a twin bed, and the kids have bunk beds. Common areas include a kitchen, living room and office area; residents share two bathrooms. “That gets to be a little hectic when there are a lot of families,” Cahill said.
In the bedroom, the three of them pack everything they need for day-to-day living. “It’s a daily cleaning ritual to keep things organized,” Cahill said.
Last week, 20 people — women and children — lived at the shelter, which was at its capacity. “Regardless of where we came from, we’re all in the same situation now, and we work together really well,” Cahill said.
Dottye Krippen, director of Bethany House, described Cahill as a “model resident. She’s been an example for other residents and an encouragement to them. It’s been a real blessing having her.”
A positive perspective
On Wednesday evening, Cahill cooked a dinner of Polish sausage, twice-baked potatoes and broccoli and cheese in the resident kitchen. She had walked to her son’s school and then on to the Locust Street IGA to buy the food.
Krystian and Cheyenne had finished activities in Ryves Youth Center and watched television in the Bethany House living area. They goofed off with other children staying at the shelter.
“Broccoli is awesome,” Krystian said, and he was serious. “He wore a black T-shirt that said, “Don’t blame me, blame video games.”
“He’s been our joker from day one,” his mom said.
Their lives have changed drastically, but Cheyenne puts it in perspective. “It’s really not that big of a bother, because we meet new friends and have new experiences.”
She does miss her friends and family in Kentucky, but she still talks to them by phone.
They still have a lot of their possessions, although many are in storage. “Obviously, the pool didn’t come with us,” Cahill said. “That was a hard one to lose.”
Cheyenne described Bethany House as “a great place,” but she’s looking forward to having her own home again.
Krystian said of his new life and surroundings, “I don’t really care. It doesn’t bother me that much, but I had so many friends down there [in Kentucky] and just to leave them, it felt kind of weird.”
Switching schools mid-year has been kind of a tough adjustment, he said. At the start of the school year, he attended South Vermillion Middle School.
After the family gets settled into new housing, Krystian is looking forward to getting his Xbox back. “That’s pretty much all I need,” he said.
Cheyenne says, “The thing I’m looking forward to is getting my two doggies back.” They are in Clinton with her mom’s boyfriend.
Cheyenne and Krystian know their mom is working hard to give them a better life. “It’s kind of hard when you don’t get to spend time with her,” Cheyenne said, but she knows her mom’s goal is a good-paying job.
Said Krystian: “I know it’s for a good thing. When it all finishes, she’ll have a very awesome job and we’ll be not so down with the economy like we are now.”
Cheyenne and Krystian don’t consider themselves homeless. “At least we have a roof over our head and food in our mouth,” Cheyenne said.
“One paycheck away…”
Reflecting on the life she left behind in Kentucky, Cahill said she had a water and fire restoration cleaning business for several years before increased competition and the poor economy took a toll and she went out of business.
“The mistakes I made both in my personal life and my business life was just a lack of savings,” she said.
“I was sold into a mortgage beyond what I should have been. I had picked out a much lower-cost home” but a mortgage broker convinced her to buy a new home that she really couldn’t afford. “I was in over my head with my mortgage,” she said.
She bought nice things “and gave my kids everything they wanted — you know, kind of the American dream thing. You want to give your kids what they want: Nikes and Xboxes, trampolines and go-carts, the whole nine yards.”
But when she went out of business and couldn’t make payments on her home, she lost it. She looked for other work, but the jobs just weren’t there.
Within weeks after dropping her car insurance to liability only, the car was totaled in an accident, which left Cahill without transportation.
Looking back at the traumatic chain of events, “The biggest shock to me was that it spiraled so quickly downhill and the climb back up is a lot more challenging than the fall down,” she said.
She does see an end to her current plight. “I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
While embarrassed at being homeless, she wants to share her story and to let people know it can happen to anyone. “You’re only one paycheck away, most of us,” she said. “The way that society in general in America has lived, that’s the reality.”
Her advice now is to “save every penny you have extra. That should be the new American dream. Save. Build that savings account so that when the economy or your situation changes, you have something to fall back on.”
Cahill will celebrate her 33rd birthday Monday, and she has an extra special reason to celebrate. She’s found a home to rent, it’s been approved and she’s now waiting for it to be inspected.
“I’ve told Dottye [Krippen] if she sees any crazy activity outside, it’s me doing cartwheels,” Cahill said early Friday afternoon.
The night before, Cahill had spent several hours in class at Ivy Tech and then worked the overnight shift at Denny’s. “I should be sleeping at this point, but it will take some major sedation,” she said, thrilled at the prospect of being homeless no more.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE — A year ago, 32-year-old Brittany Cahill owned a $185,000 home, drove an Eclipse Spyder and operated her own business.
- Local & Bistate
Rose-Hulman professor researching ways to make homes storm safe
Tornadoes produce greater uplift forces than hurricanes, which can flatten homes such as in Moore Okla., south of Oklahoma City.
Group wants to connect downtown Terre Haute with the Wabash River
Fairbanks Park is underutilized.
The Wabash River is peaceful and inviting, but there is some concern about its cleanliness as well as pollution levels. Also, people can’t get on the river unless they have a boat.
New conservancy district appoints first directors
Members of the first board of directors of a new lake conservancy district were appointed Tuesday by the Vigo County Board of Commissioners.
Vigo law enforcement signs Triad charter to protect seniors
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller joined Vigo County law enforcement and community activists Tuesday to sign the county’s first Triad charter, becoming the 22nd Triad in Indiana.
Wabash Valley Red Cross wraps up Save the Day Campaign
The American Red Cross Wabash Valley Chapter’s 2013 annual meeting concluded the 17th annual Save the Day Campaign, and the results lifted the spirits of all who were involved.
Some Vigo roads washed out
Spring storms resulted in $250,000 in damages to roads in southern Vigo County, with costs including sand and labor to save homes near river bottoms, said county highway Assistant Superintendent Dan Bennett.
County Council votes $78K toward rail spur
County officials voted Tuesday night to make good on a 2011 promise to help improve a railroad spur just north of Terre Haute for Menard Inc.
Spring flooding damages future CSO holding lagoon
Flood waters from the Wabash River have done costly damage to one of the city-owned “lagoons” on former International Paper property.
Vigo tops state average for IREAD-3 scores
The Vigo County School Corp. exceeded the state average in the percentage of students passing the state’s mandatory Grade 3 reading test, IREAD-3.
Storms cause minor damage in Valley
Tuesday morning storms in the Wabash Valley caused thousands of Duke Energy customers to lose power.
Vigo County Jail Log: May 21, 2013
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Monday and Tuesday, based on jail records.
UPDATE: Damage surveys show 2 weak tornadoes hit near Indy
INDIANAPOLIS — The National Weather Service says storm surveys show two weak tornadoes struck central Indiana.
Storm causes scattered Indiana power outages
INDIANAPOLIS — A line of thunderstorms that moved across Indiana caused scattered building damage and power outages for several thousand homes and businesses.
Kindergartner diagnosed with MD treated to a day with the fire department
“He’ll just never forget this day,” Stacey Manley said, a little bit tearfully, as she watched her smiling 6-year-old son Carter sitting happily in the captain’s seat of Fire Engine 2.
Casey, Illinois aims for another world record
The town of Casey, Ill., may soon weave its way into the record books as the small town with the most world records. After setting records for the world’s largest wind chimes and the world’s largest golf tee, Casey is now looking to become home to the world’s largest knitting needles and crochet hook.
Rose-Hulman projects will promote growth, learning for people with physical challenges
Life changed dramatically for college engineering student Drew Christy on Feb. 22, 2008 when he was involved in an auto accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
‘500’ gas stations being sold to Speedway LLC
After several decades in business, the area’s familiar “500” gasoline stations and convenience stores will soon be missing from the roadsides of Vigo and Sullivan counties.
Terre Haute woman faces 14 charges
A Terre Haute woman faces 14 criminal counts after her arrest Friday on drug-related charges.
Two adults injured in ATV accident
Two adults were injured Sunday evening while riding an all-terrain vehicle near Lexington Farms Subdivision off Moyer Drive in southern Vigo County.
Vigo schools’ medical claims down 4 percent
The Vigo County School Corp.’s medical claims were about $13 million over the last 12 months, down 4 percent from the prior year, said Diane Titchenell, an Anthem account manager that works with the school district.
2013 Government Directory now available
The 2013 Government Directory is now available.
UPDATE: 5 killed, 6 injured in I-70 van crash in Illinois
ST. LOUIS — A van carrying church members returning from a California gathering careened off of a southern Illinois freeway and overturned several times today, killing five people and sending six others to hospitals, authorities said.
2 children reported dead from Indianapolis fire
INDIANAPOLIS — Authorities say some autistic children lived in the Indianapolis condominium unit where a fire has killed two children.
Tighter Indiana drunken driving law seems unlikely
INDIANAPOLIS — Some key Indiana legislators say it’s unlikely that the state will any time soon go along with a federal safety board’s recommendation that the threshold for drunken driving be cut nearly in half.
Vigo County Jail Log: May 20, 2013
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, based on jail records.
Life-Size Ping Pong: Valley pickleball tourney draws large crowd to Brittlebank Park
It’s been described as “ping pong on steroids.”
Some people call it “life-size ping pong where you stand on the table.”
Boat trip aims to raise awareness about Lewy Body Dementia
In 2013, the Year of the River, it makes sense to link a grand adventure on the Wabash River with a good cause.
Legislature had little taste for alcohol bills
When it comes to alcohol, the 2013 legislative session may be marked more by what it didn’t do to boost booze sales than what it did.
STATE OF THE STATEHOUSE: Is it regulation that doesn’t make sense or evening the playing field?
I’m not much of a drinker, so I haven’t spent much time thinking about how Indiana’s alcohol laws personally impact me, but that changed last fall when my daughter got married.
RESTAURANT INSPECTIONS: April 29-May 3
The Vigo County Health Department inspected the following food establishments April 29-May 3:
- More Local & Bistate Headlines
- Rose-Hulman professor researching ways to make homes storm safe