Editor’s Note: For the 15th consecutive year, the Tampa Bay Times presents Holiday Hopes, a series profiling people in need that gives readers a chance to help. The Times will update readers about granted wishes in January.
It was nearly four years ago that Crystal Norals packed her four kids and what little would fit in their car and set out for Florida from Mississippi. She knew hardly anyone here, but needed to get herself and the kids away from a bad situation.
“It was really the clothes on our backs,” she said. “A fresh start.”
She was making it work. When the pandemic started, Norals was working a steady job at a warehouse.
It wasn’t long before the coronavirus spread among employees there, and the business took a hit.
“Then they ended up letting us all go,” said Norals, a 34-year-old single mother of three girls aged 6, 14 and 16 and a son, 15, living in New Port Richey.
When the schools closed Norals was home with the kids, making sure her first grader, Rosie, stayed put in front of a laptop from morning to afternoon.
She looked for another job, and ventured out a couple times to work day-labor jobs through an agency, sweeping up at construction sites for new apartment buildings being built behind the mall.
It paid $63 a day when there was work available, but she would come home to find that Rosie had strayed from her classes, even while attending virtual school alongside her older sister, their laptops side by side.
“It’s a challenge,” Norals said. Her 16-year-old daughter has her own work to do, and “the 6-year-old kind of rules the house and likes to run over the other ones if I’m not here. It’s like I have to be everywhere.”
Her oldest daughter has a heart condition stemming from Turner Syndrome that puts her at high risk if she catches COVID-19. Norals worries about bringing the virus home to her children from an unsafe workplace.
There was already fear, but after Norals’ aunt and two cousins died from COVID-19, it became terrifying, she said.
“It was all kind of unreal until it affects someone in your family.”
Norals and her children were able to afford their apartment through a USDA Rural Development rental assistance program that reduced the rent.
Recently though, it came time for Norals to recertify her financial situation with the landlord as she has done the past three years. She needed paperwork with proof from the Social Security Office, but when she went there it was closed due to COVID-19.
By the time the paperwork arrived in the mail, she’d missed the deadline and lost her subsidy. The rent went way up.
Norals and her children have been getting food from different churches and food banks for months.
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After falling two months behind on rent, she was put in touch with a charitable organization that was prepared to pay it and get her caught up. It seemed like a miracle, until they requested a new copy of a more up-to-date lease.
Norals asked her landlord for that new lease, so that she could pay the back rent she owed, but was told she could not get a copy of the new lease until she paid the back rent. She was trapped in that impossible loop so long that the landlord started eviction proceedings.
Norals would have already lost the apartment, but a judge accepted documents from the charity that was going to pay the rent — but didn’t — as proof that Norals made her “best effort” to secure government assistance.
That made her eligible for protection under the Centers for Disease Control’s moratorium on evictions. But it was borrowed time. Those protections run out soon, meaning Norals and her kids have until the end of December to be out.
She knows what will happen.
“I had neighbors recently going through the same thing,” she said. “I watched the police come and put them out.”
She has told her older children that they will have to move soon, but she has downplayed how dire the situation is, and that as of now they have nowhere to go.
“I try not to worry them too much with my problems,” she said. “But they’ve been quiet. I know it has bothered them. I don’t think they’re going to have Christmas this year, but I think just having some place to live after Christmas would be enough. They’d be happy with that.”
Crystal Norals needs help finding and securing an affordable place to live for her and her four children after being evicted from their current home. They have until the end of December to be out. Norals said the most important things she needs help with are paying rent, and the cost of moving into a new place, including first month, last month and security deposit. That, she said, would be Christmas gift enough for the whole family, though if she was able, she would get LOL toys for her youngest daughter, and a drone or sports items for her son, who plays football and basketball. Her older daughters love listening to music, using their laptops and books.
If you can help Crystal Norals, reach out to the organization that nominated her, One Community Now, at (727) 858-6117 or email@example.com or donate directly to the Crystal Norals Family Fund. To donate directly to One Community Now visit onecommunitynow.com and click “donate now.”