Charity saved Christmas; mercy could save the new year
When it rains, it pours, and if it weren't for outside help, the Bowen family in Pine River would have had no Christmas. Even now, they are working to start 2018 on the right foot.
Tommy and Danielle Bowen landed on hard times at the end of July when a miscalculation cost them their home in Mankato.
"(Until) July 31 we were in a contract-for-deed house," Tommy said. "We either had to get a mortgage or get out. We didn't get the mortgage."
It wasn't for lack of trying. The couple had been working to repair their credit for the day when they would finally need to mortgage their home, but they didn't quite make it.
"I screwed up the dates," Danielle said. "I thought we still had two years to come up with the mortgage. We started trying to figure it out and just didn't have time to repair our credit. The mortgage company said if we had six more months we would have qualified."
Their trustful nature cost them their remaining money when they say a potential landlord took advantage of them for $1,100. That left only one place for them to live.
"We ended up living - my three kids, dog and wife - out of our 1994 Suburban before we came back this way where we all started," Tommy said.
They weren't without an income. Tommy is a disabled former carnival worker, but Danielle had been working a full-time job for the last two years. While her employers were willing to wait for the family to find a home, that proved difficult. They spent one to two months living from their vehicle, trying to find a place to live. Their search was complicated by a felony DUI on Tommy's record.
"We can't find anybody that's even willing to rent to us now," Tommy said.
A well-meaning family directed them to a family shelter in Wisconsin. When they arrived at 1 a.m. and having spent the last of their gas money, they were turned away because of that same conviction. Life turned even more bleak.
"Our dog died in our truck in Verndale," Tommy said.
They spent many nights at rest stops, and Tommy asked for gas money with a cardboard sign alongside the highway.
"It's been one storm after another," Tommy said.
At the end of September, after Tommy's father lost his home in Florida and joined Tommy and Danielle, they found the Rodeway Inn in Pine River, with a little help.
"The only reason we ended up here is I contacted the county," Danielle said. "Our 6-year-old son was begging to sleep in a bed. Every night it was tears. He just wanted a bed. It was heartbreaking."
The lodging isn't ideal. Their room is at maximum capacity with three adults and three children living there for $800 a month, but with temperatures now far below zero, they understand the old saying, "any port in a storm."
"I think we're lucky we at least have this," Danielle said. "There are still days where it's a struggle."
The family pawned almost everything they owned to get into the hotel, but it wasn't long before Danielle was cleaning with Grand View Lodge to pay the bills. Life is slowly improving, through the help of strangers.
Two days into Danielle's new job, the motor of the Suburban they called home blew up. A charitable family online sold them a Jeep for $300, even though they advertised it for $700. They even followed up to wish them a merry Christmas.
Christmas itself was made possible by charitable donations. They were given $250 in Pawn America's annual Season of Giving event, as well as gift donations from other individuals and charities.
"We had a couple people who reached out and helped us," Tommy said. "(The kids) did all right for Christmas."
The family still needs help for the long-term. They are not, however, looking for handouts. They are looking for mercy when it comes to finding a home to rent.
"If there's a landlord willing to give us a chance that's almost all we need," Tommy said.
Tommy even offered to help the landlord with handiwork. Disability does not appeal to him.
"He wants to go back (to the carnival) but I won't let him," Danielle said. "He'd work himself to death."
They are ultimately hoping to find a new contract-for-deed property, but in the meantime they are just hoping for a space bigger than their hotel room.
"Basically we are just looking for a three- to four-room rental," Danielle said.
In the meantime, while the cold wind blows outside, the Bowens are grateful for the warmth and soft beds of the Rodeway Inn.
"We're here. We have a job. We have food," Danielle said.
Tommy asks anyone who can help them find a home to contact him either by visiting the Rodeway Inn, Room 111, or by contacting him at 507-514-2844.