I’m trying to get my story out there and having no luck. I am displaced because of coronavirus and not because I am out of a job and can’t pay rent, but because someone moved into my apartment to quarantine while I was out of town and now my landlord won’t let me back in.
Before I left for the Grand Canyon I got all my ducks in a row; paid my bills, put a hold on my mail, changed my voicemail to inform anyone who called that I was rafting for 18 days and wouldn’t have cell service. I did not plan to come back to global pandemic. I did however plan to come back. The last time I paid rent (due at the 1st of each month) was on Feb 26. Even though I would be gone for most of March I was looking forward to spending the last 9 nights of March back home. Especially having a place to do laundry and shower after I got off the river.
Coming back into cell service, driving away from the Colorado river running through the Grand Canyon I got the following texts from my landlord “steamboat quarantine… stay in your girlfriends van til over maybe 8 weeks” and “the wife and I as representatives of our 2yo daughter feel it is important to quarantine and ride it out… I would stay with your girlfriends parents in California.”
I had been isolated from news, texts, internet for close to 3 weeks so I was still making sense of things. I understood his concern to quarantine but I had also heard staying the CDC was recommending six feet was a safe distance. Surely we would be able to return to our apartment below him and effectively quarantine.
Then I got the final text and it made sense “we had to move mother in law into your apartment, until the quarantine is called off I can’t give you your apartment back, I’m not going to kick my mother in law out because you two are coming back at a bad time”
Just like that we were homeless. 2 hours earlier we had felt like the luckiest people in the world, having just completed our second successful rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, but while we were gone COVID-19 was uprooting our lives.
I was in shock and denial at first and thought we would easily find a solution, similar to the world’s first impressions of the virus, but as that day went on the reality sunk in.
I called my landlord for some clarification. He explained that him and his wife had temporarily moved the mother in law from Denver into their extra room. When it became apparent the situation would linger on and the in law would need more space, especially now that she would have to work from home, they agreed (without my consent) that she could use the temporarily vacant space downstairs. Then the pandemic refused to ease up and it was clear the in law would not be able to return to Denver any time soon. The trouble was she had grown comfortable with the space, my space, the space my girlfriend and I called home. The space we hung pictures of our family. The space we wrote notes with dry erase markers for each other to find in the morning on the bathroom mirror.
I need to pause here and let the gravity of that settle. Being displaced was hard. Being displaced knowing someone else was lurking amongst our most personal possessions was sickening. Coming from a beautiful isolated vacation back to a world where everything is changed and nothing feels comfortable and confronting the aforementioned was borderline unbearable. If it hadn’t been for the support of friends and family I’m not sure where I would be today.
My girlfriend and I had to make hard decisions. With no job, no home, and quarantine orders in effect, her best option was to move back in with her parents in Northern California. With my job still in full swing and eagerly awaiting my return, my best option was to return to steamboat and continue earning an income. It would be difficult for me to return to work without a home so my girlfriend offered I stay in the converted van we had driven down to the Grand Canyon in. Instead of driving from Flagstaff AZ to steamboat we drove together in the opposite direction to Chico CA where we said our goodbyes and I got back in the van and drove home. I drove to the town I’ve called home for 10 years, but when I came around that last turn with the yampa river tricking off to my right and saw the edge of town it felt very unlike home.
I was able to retrieve a few things from my apartment when I got into town. The mother in law stayed upstairs in my landlords apartment while I did so, suggesting that there was no concern warranting quarantine in my home, she had just gotten comfortable there. This was further evidenced when I toured the apartment trying to decide what I needed not from there. A child’s artwork was hanging by my desk. Someone else’s linens were on my bed. My landlord had moved the centerpiece and place settings off our kitchen table, the epicenter of what embodies home to me, and set up his computer and was also working from what I used to call home. My toiletries had been put in a box in the closet, the last note I wrote to my girlfriend was still on the bathroom mirror for a stranger to look through as they brush their teeth.
I grew up with an older brother and 2 sisters and I used to think I was acclimated to invasion of personal space. On top of everything going on right now; being homeless, being separated from Michelle, getting used to the new rules of the world, what hurts the most is that someone else is living in my home, sleeping in my bed, using my favorite coffee cup and there is nothing I can do about it.
I am seeking legal counsel, with little hope or comfort. My situation is very unique and because of this confusing. I keep hearing “I’ve never heard of anything like this before” which doesn’t surprise me. It’s not every day someone emerges from the Grand Canyon to a changed world where a stranger has taken over what used to be home. The infractions my landlord and his family committed were minor in the eyes of the law. To my girlfriend and I, the disruption, displacement and trauma are substantial. She has vowed to never rent from anyone again. I will certainly have a hard time trusting after this. I’m hesitant to find a new apartment because of the uncertainty tomorrow could bring.
I urge everyone to continue to be kind to others in this confusing trying time. I heard recently that everything has changed and we are not in a “play by the book” situation. I disagree. There are rules and regulations in place to prevent chaos and to prevent people like us from being hurt. Do not panic. Stay safe and help others do the same. Certainly do not take advantage of others.