'These people are like angels to us': Florida flood washes family to Adams
Photo Gallery | Homeless Florida family taken in by Adams couple
ADAMS — It is said folks can find anything on Craigslist and Jeffrey Curl is desperately hoping that includes a second chance and a new beginning.
About one year ago, Curl, his fiancee Samantha Williams and her 11-year-old son Batista Bartlett lost their Elfers, Fla. three-bedroom rental home, their furnishings, clothing, most of their personal mementos and their car when devastating floods struck Pasco County. Their lives spiraled from a lower but stable middle-class lifestyle to a low point last week when, out of desperation, Curl posted a Craigslist plea seeking housing and help.
By the time 103 Summer St. resident Susan Graves saw the ad on Aug. 8, Curl, Williams, and Batista were financially empty. They faced life on the streets when their short-term West Springfield motel stay finished.
Graves and her husband Gordon live on a very fixed income. Gordon receives a small monthly disability stipend while Susan works a part-time job at the Market 32 in Pittsfield. She expects to begin a second part-time job at a Dollar General Store soon, she said.
But for now, the Graves family has a National Grid electric service disconnect notice dated for Aug. 18 and an almost empty gas tank.
"I know we don't have much of anything but we do have a roof over our heads," Susan Graves said when asked why, with her own difficult situation, she contacted Curl via a cell phone and arranged to drive to West Springfield and bring the trio to her two-bedroom home. "I had that much and that was more than they had."
"These people are like angels to us," Curl said during an Aug. 10 interview at the apartment.
The newcomers would like to stay in town, Curl and Williams said.
"It's peaceful here, it's quiet, and it seems like there isn't much crime," Williams said.
Curl said that he knows there may be challenges finding a job. While he has skilled work experience, Curl admitted that six years ago, he stole some valuable comic books and sold them. He was charged with a felony and completed a jail term, he said.
"I knew what I was doing wasn't right," he said of the crime. "I did do my time."
Williams is in poor health and the Morgan and Morgan law firm, which has offices nationwide, is assisting her while she tries to acquire Social Security disability benefits, she said. At this time, she has no income. The family has visited social services agencies seeking help since coming to Massachusetts but the goal is to find work, Curl said.
Batista is an honor roll student, she noted. One of the treasured items lost to the flood was a certificate of accomplishment signed by President Barack Obama for Batista's successful participation in an accelerated math program, she said.
"There was an eagle pin that went with it, too," Batista said. "That's gone now."
Batista celebrates his 12th birthday on Aug. 28. He said he wants to remain in town, go to school here, and maybe play sports. He said he wants friends and a quiet, stable life.
"My biggest wish is for us to pull through as a family," he said. "My biggest wish is a place to call home. I want to make some friends."
New friends — most of whom live on fixed incomes or hold minimum wage jobs — have helped out already. An upstairs neighbor had a bicycle that Batista can ride. People are searching for clothing items to donate.
Arianna Carnes is 10 years old and met Batista and his family on Tuesday. Arianna returned to the Graves apartment on Wednesday with wrapped gifts for Batista and his mom. She'd gone shopping at the Dollar General store with her own money, she said.
"I wanted to get them a present," Arianna said.
Graves said that she is not surprised by the generosity of the building tenants.
"This building is like a family," she said. "Nobody has any money but everybody helps."
Curl shared details about the flooding, its immediate impact, the months of bouncing from motel to motel, resorting to life in a tent and an emotional breakdown that resulted in three bus tickets to Massachusetts.
Curl was employed as a pipe layer with an area land development firm when the rains began in late July 2015. Newspaper accounts detail the rise of the Anclote River and the flooding that devastated parts of Elfers. Evacuations were launched and when the floodwaters receded, Curl and his family were left with almost nothing, he said. The family did not have renters insurance and ultimately, the federal government denied Gov. Rick Scott's request for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds. FEMA funds may be used to deliver assistance to individuals following disasters. The car was ruined by flood waters and was sold as scrap for $250, Curl said. He was unable to purchase another vehicle.
Batista remained enrolled in school but the family relied on churches and agencies for shelter, staying in multiple motels, Curl and Williams said. Finally, Batista moved in with Curl's father and Curl and Williams lived in a tent, they said.
In early July, heeding the advice of a local pastor, the couple visited a Light of the World religious center and while there, Curl broke down into tears, he said. "I told them that I couldn't continue this way, I just couldn't do it anymore," he said. "We kept trying, we kept trying, and we had nothing. No one would help us. If it was just us (meaning himself and Williams) we can live in a tent. But we couldn't keep living like this with our son."
Church officials provided the family with bus tickets to West Springfield, where Williams' father lives. He agreed to take the family in but soon learned that because he lived in subsidized housing, the trio could only visit for two weeks. Then, under housing regulations, they had to leave or Williams' father would face eviction.
That is when Curl placed the Craigslist ad, he said.
Williams and Curl fought back tears as they spoke about having a home, food on the table, a steady job and a modest but decent life.
The couple said that they understand people may be cautious when hearing their story but want nothing more than to secure honest employment and a place to call home.
"We don't drink, we don't use drugs, and I work," Curl said."We have nothing to offer the Graves, we came to them with nothing. They are everything to us. We do not even have toiletries right now.
"I am willing to work. We need a start. Please, we just want a start."