BELLOWS FALLS -- As Crystal Shipper walked through her apartment's crowded kitchen to the living room, she kept an eye on her three children while gesturing toward the only possessions she will have left later this week.
"This is it. This one pile right here," the 27-year-old said in reference to a few hampers and laundry baskets filled with folded clothes and hangers. They are all she and the apartment's other eight people will be able to lug away from the 42 Green St. residence when they are forced to leave at 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Bellows Falls Fire Chief Bill Weston said various health and fire code violations -- and the alleged negligence and apparent disappearance of the landlords -- will force his department to evict all of the building's tenants. Shipper said at 20 people live in the three-floor structure.
Shipper lives on the second floor with her children, as well as Sean and Sheryl Foster and their three children, and two dogs. The building was condemned on Wednesday, Aug. 8, and all residents were given 14 days' notice to find other arrangements.
"On Thursday, pretty much, we're leaving everything behind. We get to go to a homeless shelter -- if there's one available. The town may set us up in a hotel," she said in the kitchen on Monday, with Sheryl and Sean and their 19-year-old twin sons, Roman and Seth, standing nearby. Sheryl said her daughter, Amber, 16, will stay with a friend.
A health order was served
Shipper, who has no family in the area, said she has lived in the apartment for 16 months and the Fosters moved in seven months ago. She said the rent is $800 per month, with no utilities included.
While Shipper was talking, her daughter, 7-year-old Layla Sullivan, emerged from the living room with a question.
"Mommy, where are we going to sleep?" she asked. Shipper told her she and her brother Dominic Sullivan, who had turned 6 the day before, will stay with their father in Ludlow, Mass., from Thursday to Sunday. Shipper's other son, Xander Montford, 4, was keeping himself entertained by playing in the living room with Dominic and the two dogs, Trinity and Lady.
Sheryl said this is not the first time landlord negligence has forced her family to leave their home, as a similar situation occurred while they lived in Saxtons River. They lived in Barre prior to that.
Weston said the town has not been able to get in touch with the landlords -- who could be in Massachusetts, Colorado or Texas -- and the BFPD has no choice to but to evict the tenants. But Shipper said the former property manager, who she said resigned a few days before the place was condemned, said he had spoken to the landlords, Scott and Veronica Cooper.
"(He) flat out told me two days ago that he has been in contact with them and they said they don't care about this building -- to let the building go," she said. "They owe me $1,500 down payment. They owe me the repairs that I've had to (pay) out of my own pocket. They owe the 16 months of rent I've paid for nothing."
Shipper said the residents will have to sue the landlords for the money and she was waiting to hear back from legal aid on Monday. She said has had to pay for piping because there was once no water in the apartment.
"They've neglected to fix our
Crystal Long also lives in the building with her three sons. Her brother, Robert Damon, said she has resorted to holding a continuous tag sale on the front lawn to try to scrounge up extra money to find a new home.
"I've never met the landlords but she's never been able to get a hold of them," Damon said under the "Tag Sale" sign. "She's just trying to figure something and put together as much money as possible to find a new apartment. She's having no luck."
Shipper said an extension on the deadline would be helpful for two reasons -- it's unlikely a new landlord will let her move in until the first of any month and it's also when she gets her government assistance.
"If they could extend it at least until the first, we'd have the money to at least put ourselves in a hotel if we had to," she said.
Shipper also approached Lisa Pitcher, the executive director of the Our Place Drop-In Center, for help. Pitcher said she spoke to Shipper after Wednesday's meeting of the Greater Falls Warming Shelter, of which she is a board member.
"Crystal needed help with a phone card. She had been making calls to several potential new landlords and ran out of minutes, so they would not be able to call her back," she explained in her office.
Pitcher said she gave Shipper $30 in cash out of Our Place's budget and helped her make copies of the eviction documents. She said Our Place, which provides breakfasts and lunches to area residents, does not the money to provide people with housing and referred to the Southeastern Vermont Community Action, or SeVCA.
"I was pretty distraught when I heard about the whole situation," Pitcher said. "I'm really concerned about everybody, but particularly about the children."
She said there is no room at homeless shelter due to the volume of families needing assistance.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.