TARPON SPRINGS — After a year of turmoil, Kreshae Humphrey has finally found stable ground for her family.
It’s a sky-blue house with a screened-in front porch, a tire swing and enough space to play a proper game of hide-and-seek.
She’s also able to bathe her three young daughters in the bathtub again, without fear that the water coming from the taps will leave them with mysterious, itchy, red rashes.
“There is a sense of peace that everything here is okay,” Humphrey, 27, said. “I know for sure this place is clean. I don’t have to worry about turning on my water.”
The Tampa Bay Times profiled her family’s struggles at Southern Comfort mobile home park earlier this year. The park, located off of U.S. 19 in Clearwater, was shut down on Oct. 31 after the owner’s decade-long failure to fix a sewage system that leaked bacteria into the ground.
The owner and the state say the park’s wastewater problems did not affect the drinking water. But residents like Humphrey believe otherwise.
Humphrey and her partner, Eric Soto De Jesus, 26, blame the tap water for leaving their two older daughters, now ages 19 months and 4 years, with rashes and peeling skin they suffered while they grew up at Southern Comfort.
After their youngest daughter, Erica, was born in April, they began a regimen of bathing all three girls with bottled water in a bucket bath in the living room to help them heal. They also sued the park’s owners, saying they were exposed to “unsafe” and “unsanitary” water. The lawsuit seeks to recoup what they lost investing in a home they had to abandon and is still ongoing in Pinellas circuit court.
As much as the family suffered living at Southern Comfort, learning that it would close was also a blow. Their rent of $658 a month seemed impossible to replicate in the area’s booming housing market. Soto De Jesus had just lost his full-time job in sales and was barely scraping by with a part-time job.
The family qualified for Section 8 housing assistance, but places suitable for a family of five with a newborn were limited. Humphrey spent her days scrolling through listings but only found dead ends.
Finally, days before the park was supposed to close on Oct. 31, Humphrey stumbled upon a stroke of luck — a listing showed a sky-blue house in Tarpon Springs that fit their needs perfectly and qualified for Section 8. It had three bedrooms and was right across the street from a public library. Nevaeh, her oldest daughter, began to excitedly refer to it as “my sky-blue house.”
But emergency assistance for the deposit, from the Family Services Initiative funded by the Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board, wasn’t going to be approved in time. They feared they would lose the house.
The day before the park was supposed to close, the couple was throwing out their furniture and planned to move into a shelter while they waited to see what would happen.
After a Tampa Bay Times reporter called the Juvenile Welfare Board to inquire about the case, the deposit money — $1,500 — was quickly released. Instead of moving into a shelter, the family moved straight into the sky-blue house.
Two months later, Humphrey says her family is thriving.
The house sits behind a white picket fence and has a porch — which Nevaeh calls the “airport” because it’s so wide it reminds her of a runway. The property also includes a large front yard where the girls can run around and play on a tire swing.
With Section 8 assistance, they pay 30 percent of their income for rent. After a year, they will be eligible for a homeownership assistance program and hope to buy the house.
Their new home feels spacious and is filled with natural light, a change from their rickety home in Southern Comfort. They also don’t have to worry about some of the nuisances of living in a mobile home park — like raccoons, cats, loud neighbors or an aggressive towing policy, Humphrey said.
“The rent is cheaper and we are getting way more,” she said.
For the first week, their living room was empty. But after the Salvation Army learned about their struggles, they gave the family a gift card. They giddily raced around the shop, choosing new couches, end tables and TVs. “It was like a shopping spree,” Humphrey said.
Now that their life has settled into a routine, Humphrey said she enjoys the quiet hours of the morning before the house wakes up, a time that used to be dedicated to frantically searching for a new place to live on her computer.
With the sun streaming in through the windows, she curls up in her new favorite spot, a brown sofa recliner, sips on Positive Energy Yogi Tea and watches funny YouTube videos.
Their landlord, Jewel DeFiores, checks in and alerts them to family-friendly activities in the area, Humphrey said. The girls love living across from the library, where they can attend story time and dance parties. They have also enjoyed exploring Tarpon Springs’ downtown, including a recent holiday parade.
Still, there are challenges. Humphrey’s car broke down soon after the move. Luckily, the house is close to amenities. It’s a 10 minute walk to the Dollar Store and Save A Lot and less than 20 minutes to Walmart.
Soto De Jesus has found some promising leads for a new job and the girls’ skin issues have cleared up. Nevaeh no longer cries or breaks out in red rashes when the water from the shower hits her skin.
“Now we have shower time, just like any normal, American, fun-loving home,” Humphrey said.