Documenting the lived experience and human condition

Finding Home: Joel and Katie Longanecker Part 1 of 2

Finding Home: Joel and Katie Longanecker Part 1 of 2

“We know homelessness, we know strife, and we know hopelessness. That is why we are compelled and somewhat obligated to help others in need. That is why our passion lies within helping others. ” Joel Longanecker

“We know what it’s like to be housed and have everything you need and a good income, but we also know what it is like to have absolutely nothing. It helps you to see both sides.” Katie Longanecker

Joel and Katie Longanecker are high school sweethearts. Together they have weathered many storms and come through them with continued optimism and resilience. Last year was no exception. In 2015, Joel and Katie became homeless after the house they were renting to own went into foreclosure when the landlord they trusted stopped paying the mortgage. Joel and Katie spent over 7 years in that house and they were never late on their payment. 

They were meeting their agreement and then without notice, they received a letter from the bank that they had to vacate the premise because the house was under foreclosure. Although Joel and Katie had an agreement with the landlord, there was not a physical contract in place. They were forced to leave with no place to go except the streets. They lost all of their belongs and resources and because they were not able to provide a home for their son, he was taken away and put into foster care.

Over the course of this year, they have worked hard to find stability again. Living on the streets is not easy for anyone, especially in Katie’s situation. Katie has sleep apnea and has been diagnosed with COPD and requires a c-pap machine at night, which needs electricity. Without the use of her c-pap Katie’s condition becomes deadly.

In March of 2016, after watching his wife struggling to breath on the streets without her c-pap machine, Joel reached out to his friends on Facebook to see if he could get electricity for his wife.

Joel and Katie. Photo courtesy of Joel and Katie
Joel and Katie. Photo courtesy of Joel and Katie

March 9 · Portland, OR · Facebook Post
“Katie was so wet and cold. I cried all night watching her struggle to breath in her sleep. I AM SO SCARED FOR KATIE! SHE CANT KEEP UP LIKE THIS! Please anyone I mean anyone………Can you take in just Katie for a night or two so she can plug her c-pap in to sleep?????? Just for sleep? She can’t last another night without it. I almost lost her last summer and I’m so scared for her. I have a couple hundred dollars in flood stamps, a $5,000 dollar check coming in next month, and I am job prospecting like a hurricane. Willing to give it all or anything if anyone can keep my disabled wife safe and alive for a few days so I can concentrate on getting us out of this abysmal abyss that has its clutch on this family. I just want to be back working taking care of my family again. But if we ever needed a helping hand the time is NOW. I am not looking for any handouts just a chance for Katie to stay alive long enough for me to figure this out. Please the situation could not be any dire for Katie, and the only thing that put her in this mess was her overwhelmingly big heart, doing the right thing, and being taken advantage of by some very horrible people. 

I’ve called every emergency shelter I can find! They are overwhelmed with no room for my wife. I DONT KNOW WHAT TO DO! IM SO SCARED FOR KATIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Within a day of posting the above message on Facebook, Jessie Sponberg, a homeless advocate in Portland, Oregon saw Joel’s message and reached out to one of his friends to see if she could help. A community door was opened and a place for them to stay in her backyard was made available in exchange for work around the house.

Katie prepares breakfast. Photo © 2016 Mary Anne Funk
Katie prepares breakfast. Photo © 2016 Mary Anne Funk
Having a place to stay that they didn’t have to leave daily provided a means for Joel to find work, and for Katie to have the electricity she needed for her medical needs.

“Sometimes it’s just the little things that can bring so much joy such as watching my beloved Katie sleeping with her C-Pap warm and content last night. To me there was no better site! And if that was not enough, Katie made one awesome chili omelette with hash browns for breakfast on the skillet this morning! Between a warm night sleep and a hot breakfast there has been a spring in my step all day!” Joel Longanecker

In just two months, because of the security they had in being able to camp in someone’s backyard: Joel found two part time jobs, Katie was able to sleep safely, they were able to get visitation with their son and they are on their way to having him back at home with them.
Joel adds tar paper to the outside of his shelter for weather proofing. Photo © 2016 Mary Anne Funk
Joel adds tar paper to the outside of his shelter for weather proofing. Photo © 2016 Mary Anne Funk

With permission from the person they were staying with, Joel and Katie built a tiny dwelling off a small existing shed for them to have a place to sleep and to give them an area for a kitchen.  They have accomplished so much in a short time and not only have they been working hard to overcome their hardships, they are helping others in need as well. They make meals and take them to other people who are homeless, they do laundry for members of a homeless community and they help several community organizations. They have very little yet they give so much. Over the last couple of years, Joel and Katie,  through their personal community outreach and working with several advocacy groups, have built up relationships and a community network.  Everyone you talk to talks about how loving and giving Joel and Katie are.

“From our first encounter I knew Joel and Katie’s commitment and compassion was genuine. Their outreach work is 24/7 and in all situations. They walk miles checking on houseless in all types of weather. Katie loves to feed anyone who is hungry at any time at their tent site. They offered (at midnight) to make sandwiches and deliver them to a couple at Forgotten Realms who said they were hungry. I cannot guess how many loads of laundry she’s done for Forgotten Realms. She walks to FR to get the bags of laundry which she puts on their cart. She walks over a mile back to their tent pulling the loaded cart. After she washes and dries the clothes she returns them to Forgotten Realms.  They do all of this and so much more while struggling to survive and improve their lives and re-unite their family” ~ Carol Leeson-Richards
Joel and Katie are working toward having a long term solution and getting into a house they can come home to every night.
“When you are moving all of the time, it puts your job in jeopardy and it gives you less time to do what is important to help.” Joel Longanecker

VIDEO: Joel and Katie share their story

At the time of this interview, Joel and Katie were in the process of having to move again, after finally feeling like they were getting somewhere and finally moving forward, they were forced back out into uncertainty.  Although Joel is working they are not in a situation in which they can sustain living at the current rental rates. They are trying hard to prevent being back on the streets again.They have been working hard to overcome what has transpired in this past year and have faced many set backs, yet through it all they maintain a positive and hopeful attitude.

See Part 2 of Joel and Katie’s Story as they journey into a new home. Part 2