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Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to visit with family, enjoy a hearty meal, and give thanks for the past year. But Marisol Rivera, whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew, will spend Thanksgiving weekend packing up her belongings and moving out of the hotel she’s been sharing with her three grandchildren — an 11-year-old boy, and two girls, 13 and 16.
The four are currently living in a single-bed hotel room on the Oceanfront at a discounted rate arranged through the city, but the city is pulling their support soon. The kids sleep in the bed, while Rivera sleeps on a couch with a sleeping bag. Rivera’s sister, Elizabeth, who had been living with them up until the storm hit, is now staying at Sentara Nursing & Rehabilitation in Virginia Beach with a broken hip caused by a fall outside after the hurricane.
Before the storm, Rivera and her grandchildren were living on the first floor of Waypoint at Lynnhaven apartments, an area that was hit hard by flooding. Though Rivera says she renewed her lease with the complex days before the storm hit, she claims Waypoint is no longer honoring the agreement.
“We renewed our lease with Waypoint, and they promised that once they fixed the apartment they would let us back in,” she said. “Now, they are saying we didn’t sign a new lease and are enrolling new tenants for 2017. They think all the paperwork was destroyed in the flooding.”
According to Rivera, the complex, which was found to have asbestos during mucking and gutting, also disposed of property that she had saved from water damage.
“The kids and I worked hard to salvage our things, but instead of putting it in the u-haul truck the next day, Waypoint tore up the walls with our stuff still in there and then threw everything away,” she said. “A lot of it was keepsake stuff, things that belonged to my four grandchildren – graduation gowns, family photos, and things from when they were in pre-school.”
“I’m at the point where I’m looking for a lawyer,” she added.
Kettler, the property manager, was not available for comment.
In addition to the loss of their home and many cherished keepsake items, the family will no longer be able to host this year’s meal.
“It’s hard because my family can’t have a Thanksgiving. We rotate hosting Thanksgiving and this year was my year,” she said. “We usually have people come in from Washington and Philidelphia, but this year I told them not to come. And we can’t join them up there because we have to move out of the hotel on Black Friday.”
Rivera will be missing out on her family’s usual Thanksgiving traditions.
“Before Thanksgiving, we always pray for a good holiday. We straighten up the house. We cook together,” she said. “I’d ring a bell that was given to me from my grandmother. The bell is a symbol of being together for life. It’s tradition to ring it before we start cleaning and cooking, but Waypoint thew it away with our things.”
“After Thanksgiving, we don’t do Black Friday shopping. Instead, we spend time together all day. I know lots of people play video games, but we always would play old fashioned games,” she said. “We’d talk about what we are going to do for Christmas. We’d always decorate and make things for the trees, but this year we just can’t do it.”
Instead, the family is spending the holiday weekend packing up what’s left of their belongings and searching for a new place to live.
“We still don’t know where we are going, and we still have to come up with the money,” Rivera said. “We’re not the only one’s in this situation. There’s a lady with twins in here. There’s another that is pregnant and due in December. We are all sticking together.”
According to Rivera, the city has provided a list of housing options, but none of them cater to handicapped individuals, which is necessary for Rivera’s sister, who suffers from strokes and partial paralysis.
Virginia Beach communications administrator Julie Hill explained that while the city has provided housing and recovery resources, they are not responsible for placing families in homes.
“Waypoint gave their residents a letter that identified properties with availability that would accept people from a variety of backgrounds. Following that sharing of that list, the city established the Housing Recovery Center to help connect people to clothes, furniture, and housing options,” said Hill. “We have been instrumental in letting people know what their options are, but, ultimately, it is a private transaction [between the family and the homeowner].”
Despite the difficulties finding housing, Rivera says there is a silver lining.
“Sentara Hospital has said they are going to provide everything my sister needs when she moves back in with us, including a new bed,” she said. “That’s the only thing good that came out of this.”
Rivera, who is ready to get her family back on their feet, has started searching for homes that better fit their needs.
“There is one little house I fell in love with. I called the owner and she is going to meet with me. I was crying and I was tired and I think she heard it in my voice that I will do anything for this house,” she said. “If we can’t do Thanksgiving the way we usually do, at least we can try and do Christmas, and bring in the new year on a positive note.”
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