Family makes home in motel

Stuck: Since October, the Rodens, beset with financial and a myriad of other problems, have been living at the Valencia in North Laurel.

December 10, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Kim Cuichta, For 12-year-old Daniel and 10-year old Christina Roden, being home from school is a little different.

Home for them is the Valencia Motel on U.S. 1 in North Laurel, where they have lived with their brother, Steven, 3, and their parents, Keith and June Roden, since October.

It is at least the third motel they have called home since March, when they last had a permanent place in the home of June Roden's grandparents in Greenbelt, she said. At the Valencia, one bedroom, a tiny living room, kitchen, bathroom and closet cost them $310 a week, plus 50 cents a telephone call.

Sometimes, Daniel said, schoolmates who see where he gets on the bus tease him about where he lives.

"If they say I'm poor," the cheerful boy told a visitor, "I tell them, `Do I have clothes on my back? Do I have food?'"

Christina was described as "a delightful, responsible student who works hard" in a letter written by Nancy Gifford, family services coordinator at her school, Laurel Woods Elementary.

The Rodens' predicament is not uncommon, even in wealthy Howard County, where a handful of working families - often with complex financial, medical and transportation problems - are stuck in older motels they can barely afford, but cannot leave without assistance.

During this holiday season, the Rodens are getting some help. Their children are among more than 11,000 in the Baltimore area "adopted" through the Salvation Army's Angeltree program, in which workers in local businesses buy food and gifts for needy families for Thanksgiving and Christmas. More than 20 percent more children were registered for help this year than last, charity officials said.

In Howard County, nearly 1,300 families registered for help this year, compared with 1,200 last holiday season, said Lafeea Watson, marketing director for the Salvation Army.

"Since 9/11, we've had a lot of people who had really good jobs who have not been able to get back on their feet," said Kim Cuichta, a Salvation Army worker in Howard who is helping the Rodens.

Workers at the Coca-Cola office in the county volunteered to buy clothes, toys and food for the Roden family, whose income of $1,500 a month covers the rent, but not much else.

Living at the Valencia Motel is better than being homeless, but it is far from comfortable. Everyone sleeps together in the two double beds pushed together, except that Keith Roden's truck driving job keeps him on the road most weekdays. They also pay $170 a month to store furniture, June Roden said.

"We kept trying to find the cheapest place. This has been the cheapest place we've been able to find," she said, referring to the old Formstone-covered motel near the entrance to Laurel Park.

Without a car, June Roden depends on her in-laws for rides to get groceries and for appointments. "I feel like I'm climbing the walls in here," she said, looking at the family's belongings piled around the living room. Other children who live at the Valencia constantly knock on the door, looking for playmates.

Steven climbed about the room, alternately playing with his toys and trying to get a stranger's attention. Daniel and Christina were outside in the snowy slush. Daniel was shoveling the motel's entrance drive, while Christina played in the snow with her friends. June has an older son, 17, who lives with his paternal grandparents in Prince George's County, she said.

Social service agencies work to get such families out of such precarious living arrangements, but there are obstacles.

Howard County pays a social worker to help some get permanent housing, but it can take a full year to unravel their tangled affairs, said Andrea Ingram, director of the county's Grass- roots Crisis Intervention Center, which administers the program.

"We've helped 25 families get [permanent] housing" over the past several years, Ingram said, although the Rodens are not eligible because they have not been Howard County motel residents for the required three months.

Grassroots, which also operates the county's homeless shelter, pays to house some homeless families at the Valencia, and county schools provide staff members for an after-school program for children living there.

The Rodens' tale is complex and sad, but not rare for some working poor families beset by a string of crises piled one atop another until they nearly melt together.

June Roden, 39, said she suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure but is without medical insurance because Keith Roden, 38, recently left a job driving a tow truck in Germantown for the long-distance trucking job.

The family was living rent free in the Greenbelt house owned by her late grandparents, she said, but had to move in March because the family lost possession of the four-bedroom home in a tax sale. Burglars broke in, she said, and one set a fire that destroyed most of their belongings and killed Stubbs, their cat.

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