Goodbye to the Van They Called Home

David and Shauna never imagined their first days as newlyweds would be spent living in a dingy hotel room, or that they would then spend the next two years homeless in a van, enduring many sleepless nights filled with worry about carbon monoxide poisoning as they struggled to stay warm.

Their life was spiraling out of control and digging out of their dire straits seemed impossible, until they contacted Catholic Charities NH. The support of donors lifted them from the turmoil and set off a chain of events that would change these two lives forever.

Every Day Became a Struggle

David and Shauna’s story starts in the shadows of the White Mountains, high school sweethearts who went separate ways after graduation. They eventually found their way back to each other, fell in love again and got married.

The early days as a married couple were spent in a cramped hotel room. Apartments nearby were too expensive, and many did not accept pets, including Shauna’s service dog, Gunner, who had become her saving grace after a serious car accident.

Despite receiving some aid from local services, they couldn’t cover the hotel stay for much longer. Driven by necessity, Shauna bought a used van online – not only to help them get around, but to become their next home. Together with Gunner, they moved in and would remain there for the next two years.

“It was very small and tight,” recalls Shauna. “We had a bed, a tiny fridge and most of our clothes in bags. We tried to make it feel like home, but it was hard.”

When a glimmer of hope appeared in the form of shelter and potential housing, it came with a catch – Shauna would need to relocate two hours away for public housing eligibility, leaving her job and Gunner behind, while David would remain in the North Country. For this couple, that was not an option.

“We had to stick together,” shares Shauna.

“It Was One Thing After Another”

Five months after moving in, the van broke down. They didn’t have enough money to fix it.

“It was one thing after another,” said Shauna. “Our life was falling apart.”

With the van immobile, they got it towed to their workplace, a local grocery store that permitted them to park in its lot. They used the bathroom inside the store to brush their teeth and got rides to Shauna’s father’s house to take showers. To get electricity, they set up an extension cord from the grocery store.

Saving money was a struggle, as they had to keep up with food. Since the van could not transport them, there were no soup kitchens or food pantries they could get to regularly.

“Being homeless doesn’t help you save money, especially when you have to feed yourself,” she recalls. “We can’t cook food in the van, so we had to buy food at the grocery store or get takeout. It all adds up at the end of the day, despite having two incomes.”

Winter soon came. There was a leak in the van’s roof, which they patched with a tarp to keep the rain and snow out. When store management changed, they lost their electricity access. Faced with the harsh cold, they hooked up a portable propane heater in the van, while leaving the windows open and having a carbon monoxide detector.

“It was stressful to sleep at night,” recalls Shauna. “I was scared, sometimes not knowing if we would even wake up.”

Around that time, Shauna found an apartment that was willing to accommodate Gunner. They managed to scrape together half of the necessary funds for the security deposit and first month’s rent, yet couldn’t get the rest. They were so close, but yet so far.

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Your gift to Catholic Charities NH means a better tomorrow for your neighbors in need across the state. They include those facing issues such as poverty, mental health challenges, homelessness, isolation and other forms of hardship and crisis.

A Light of Hope

David reached out to Catholic Charities NH’s Community Services program. Many individuals assisted by the donor-supported program, like David and Shauna, are hard-working people overcome by chronic hardships or, in their case, a series of unexpected challenges.

The minute their caseworker, Nicole Plourde, picked up the phone, she knew something was different.

“We work with many people who are homeless, but to be homeless for two years, living in a small van, enduring harsh conditions and sticking together through such a difficult period is rare,” she said. “David and Shauna possess a work ethic, tenacity and willpower to make things work, and they never give up on each other, no matter how challenging or dark their days may be.”

Thanks to donor support, Catholic Charities NH assisted with the remaining balance for the security deposit.

For Shauna, it was a day she long waited for. “I was ecstatic, it was like a huge weight lifted over my shoulder.”

Paving The Road to Stability

But it didn’t stop with housing. Catholic Charities played a pivotal role in helping them rebuild their lives through comprehensive support aimed at not just providing immediate relief but ensuring long-term stability and self-sufficiency.

Plourde assisted them in developing a sustainable budget and gaining financial literacy. She connected them with a local food pantry and where they will be able to receive groceries and prepare food from home. She coordinated the purchase of furniture and other household goods in part through donations from Guardian Angel Thrift Shop in Berlin, also owned and operated by Catholic Charites NH. Now that they live in an apartment, they are eligible for fuel assistance and HUD benefits, which Plourde is working on with the couple.

“They were trying so hard to make things work and we were able to open that bridge to get them into their apartment that got them over the hump,” reflects Plourde. “Because they have a home, it opens new doors of stability for them. It’s incredibly satisfying to see just how a transformative impact our work can have on great people.”

As David and Shauna move forward, they carry with them a profound sense of gratitude for the generosity that turned their lives around.

“If it wasn’t for Catholic Charities NH, we would still be in that broken van, getting soaked on our heads, taking desperate measures just to stay warm,” said David. “The organization and the people who give are amazing – they are always there to help and do everything they can to get people’s lives back on track.

Now, with renewed optimism, David and Shauna are looking ahead. They’re planning for a family, working towards financial stability, and enjoying the simple pleasures in life – a home-cooked meal, the warmth of a real bed, the security of a roof over their heads.

These were the things they once dreamed of, now made possible by the kindness of strangers.

Support Catholic Charities NH

Your gift to Catholic Charities NH means a better tomorrow for your neighbors in need across the state. They include those facing issues such as poverty, mental health challenges, homelessness, isolation and other forms of hardship and crisis.

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