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'Self-sustaining' family struggling in Lexington

Four years ago, Becky Ingram and her family moved to Lexington with an eye to moving up, but this fall, they found themselves one step away from moving into a homeless shelter.

"The bills were paid. The kids could get just about anything they wanted. We had no worries," Ingram said of the better time that now seems like a distant memory.

Ingram, her husband, Antawon, and their three children — Michael, 10, Taylor, 7, and Maya, 5 — moved to Lexington when she got a promotion with the marketing company she worked for. It was a step in the family's plan to ultimately move somewhere that is both warm and has a National Basketball Association team. Antawon got a job working as an assistant manager at a liquor store. They rented a 2,500-square-foot house.

Things went along fine for awhile.

But last January, Becky got fired — a result, she said, of office politics and reorganization.

She didn't worry at first.

A take-charge type, she had never been long without a job.

She was not eligible for unemployment benefits, so after a few months she took a much lower-paying part-time job. But, it soon became clear, the hours required wouldn't allow her enough time to be with her children, especially Michael, who is autistic and needs close supervision.

By summer, the family started falling behind on their bills. She and Antawon said a kind of denial set in. They didn't talk about it much. Both said they felt like they were to blame. There was an unreal air to the situation.

They went through their savings and, by fall, had gotten behind on their rent. They asked family and friends for help, but everyone they knew seemed to be struggling.

They said they received the eviction notice before they even knew the landlord had gotten a court date.

When the constables came to the house to forcibly remove them on Oct. 15, all three kids had the flu. They were given a two-day reprieve but ultimately ended up taking only what they could pack in their car.

Left behind were most of the children's toys and many of their clothes, a foosball table, things that you keep without thinking what it would cost to replace, like a bread maker and most of the family's pots and pans, and things that are irreplaceable, like the family's cat, dog and guinea pig.

Becky mourns most the loss of a bed her late mother, who died of cancer last year, had painted yellow and decorated with a scene of wildflowers and insects.

"You'd see something different every time you look at it," said Becky, tears in her eyes.

They literally didn't know where to go next. A series of fluke connections softened their landing. Antawon was an alumni of Boys Town in Nebraska. He called there to see if there might be any source of help for alumni. Someone there knew of Ginny Ramsey, who runs Lexington's Catholic Action Center. Ramsey happened to have space in a house owned by a church in Athens, which opened its empty parsonage house to the homeless this summer. Some 18 adults and 14 children have moved through there since the house became available. The Ingrams shared the space with two single women.

Ramsey said she is seeing more and more families in the same situation.

She also put them in touch with Fayette County's Adult and Tenant Services, which just recently began using money from a stimulus grant to help relocate renters, providing three months of rent plus money for deposits.

If the Ingrams had lost their home a few months earlier, they would have likely been out of options.

Becky said they hope to be in a new rented home by the new year. It is smaller, in a neighborhood they wouldn't have looked at before, but they can pay their bills with Antawon's check.

Maya, the youngest child, seems to have taken most of the upheaval in stride, content to feel safe wherever Mom and Dad are. The middle child, Taylor, has tried as children will to figure out what she can do to help. This year, she insisted on putting up the Christmas tree all by herself. Michael, driven by his autism to crave patterns and order, has had the most difficult time. At least once since the family lost their place, he became so agitated he had to be taken to the emergency room.

They say they are grateful to not be on the street, but it's a rough adjustment. It's still mostly about bad days and slightly better days.

"This is a hard thing for me," said Becky, sitting at a well-worn table at her temporary home. "I was corporate America."

"I don't feel shameful," she said. "I don't feel proud. It just is what it is.

"We were self-sustaining for a long time," she said. "We will get there again."

But, she said, "it is going to be very, very hard."