Living In Their Car: 'There's Only So Long You Can Lie' | KUOW News and Information

Living In Their Car: 'There's Only So Long You Can Lie'

May 24, 2015

About a decade ago, Kris Kalberer left her job as a retail manager to raise her kids and care for her elderly mother.

The family lived a comfortable life on her husband's income … until he lost his job.

Their finances spiraled out of control, and they lost their house in 2011. Since then, they've been living on public assistance and what resources they have left.

They’ve stayed with friends and in motels. At the time of recording, they were living in their car.

Kris and her 17-year-old daughter Erika came to StoryCorps to talk about their situation. 

KRIS: You and I and your dad and Jack and the dog, we sleep in our car. When the rain comes down or it's cold and the inside of the windows ice up it's very confusing and lonely.

One time we were all asleep and a car pulls up perpendicular to us and turned their brights on and started yelling, "Hey" over and over again. And it turns out it's some high school kids waking us up to see who's in the car and what we're doing. I don't think they realized it was a family sleeping in a car. And I just felt ashamed.

How is it to be around your friends?

ERIKA: I mean, we've been living in our car for over a year now, so I'm pretty sure some of them kind of have a hunch. There's only so long you can lie without them like, suspecting. But I don't really want them to, like, pity me.

This is one thing, as a mom, I didn't expect I'd have to fix.

And I've had to adjust the way I do things completely for school. I try to go to the library to do my homework but sometimes that's just kind of impossible. Like, we're not near one or we don't have enough gas to get to one. And that kind of screwed up my GPA and any chances of getting into colleges I would want to get into. I worry about that a lot.

KRIS: Erika, I don't think sometimes you know how strong you are. You are an extremely bright young woman. And you can go to college. And you will go to college.

ERIKA: You, you tell me that I have my life ahead of me, but I think that you do too. And I, I'd have no idea what I'd be doing with myself if you weren't around.

KRIS: I think this whole thing has taken us for a spin. And this is one thing as a mom I didn't expect I'd have to try to fix. I've been able to fix everything else, but this … I'm having a hard time fixing. And I'm disappointed that I can't.

Kris and her daughter Erika Kalberer were recorded in Seattle in July 2014. As of April 2015, Kris, Erika and their family were still in search of permanent housing.

Their interview was recorded as part of the “Finding Our Way” project. From 2014 to 2015, StoryCorps recorded over 90 interviews with families experiencing homelessness in the Puget Sound area. The work was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 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.

To learn how you can help, please visit Seattle University's Project on Family Homeless. 

Produced for StoryCorps by Liyna Anwar and Eve Claxton.

Music: “Thimble of Sun” by Podington Bear. Found using the Free Music Archive.