Charlotte Wheelock and her husband, Nick Hodges, moved to Seattle in 2014 after Charlotte was offered a job in the city. But the job fell through and Nick became sick with spinal stenosis, a condition that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
No longer able to afford a place to live, Charlotte and their two boys — then ages 6 and 4 — began sleeping in their car in the hospital parking lot while Nick was being treated. Charlotte and Nick came to StoryCorps to talk about that time in their lives.
CHARLOTTE: I definitely remember sleeping in the car while you’re in the emergency room and the kids have passed out in the back seat. I would barely sleep at night because I was watching for security guards or I was making sure that, you know, we were safe and keeping an eye out.
NICK: When you guys would visit me in the hospital, it’s just like a sense of relief because I know that you guys are going to be safe for a few hours with me. And I could try to give you a few minutes to pull your thoughts together.
CHARLOTTE: You would take over and the kids would climb up in the bed with you and start watching cartoons, and I would just go in the restroom and cry, because that was the only time that I had five minutes to myself to be me, and not have to be Mom and not have to be brave for you, and I could just fall apart.
NICK: It’s a very thin line to walk when you’re trying to be normal for your kids, but inside your head you’re scared to death.
CHARLOTTE: You had gotten out of the hospital. We found out the news that there was a spot open in the family shelter. Even though I knew it was going to be this huge opportunity and relief for the three us, it wasn’t going to be easy for you. It meant sleeping on the floor and no privacy and out the door at 7 o’clock in the morning. And I knew you were in pain still and uncomfortable.
NICK: It was tough at first but I just felt good to be with you guys again and to know that we were doing it together and that you weren’t just by yourself, trying to do everything.
CHARLOTTE: Someone had mentioned that they were opening a new apartment for families and their rent was 30% of your income, so I was really excited, because heaven forbid you have to go back to the hospital again, I wanted to be in a position where I could afford to pay rent by myself if I have to. Of the ten open apartments that they had — we got one.
NICK: It was just like so many doubts and worries just gone within a few seconds of hearing, yes, come get your keys. I remember just moving our stuff in on the first day, the kids were still in school and day care.
CHARLOTTE: And we locked the door.
NICK: And the door shut and we were able to lock it. And it was just like these are our walls, this is our place, I kicked my shoes off and sat down and I was just like ahhh home.
CHARLOTTE: I mean at that point we were homeless for 14 months, and after 14 months of not having a bathtub for our kids to have bubble bath in or an oven to make cookies in, or a Saturday to sleep in, I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to have our own place.
CHARLOTTE: I’m just so ready to start making plans and doing things with you and as a family and living again—and I’m so glad that we get to do it together.
NICK: I want to thank you for being strong and amazing and working so hard for all of us, so we could be whole again.
That was Charlotte and Nick Wheelock in Seattle. Charlotte now works as an employment coordinator at the shelter where she once stayed with Nick and her boys. Their interview was recorded in partnership with the YWCA and Mary’s Place as part of the “Finding Our Way” project, which recorded stories of families experiencing homelessness in the Puget Sound area, and with support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
StoryCorps recorded more than 90 interviews for the project in 2014 and 2015. The recordings would not have been possible without partnership with the YWCA of Seattle, King, and Snohomish; Catholic Community Services of Tacoma; Seattle University’s Center for Strategic Communications; and many other organizations. In this collection you will hear from families who have lived through homelessness sharing their experiences in their own words.
To learn how you can help, please visit Seattle University's Project on Family Homeless.
Produced by Eve Claxton for StoryCorps.
Consulting Producer: Dan Collison.
Music: "Song for Sonny" by Plusplus. Found using the Free Music Archive.