Bethany Sandling, 18, and Lance Payne, 19, couldn’t be more grateful that there was room at the inn this Christmas season for the arrival of little Lincoln Payne.
The 9-pound baby boy was born on Dec. 19 by cesarean section, making him a Christmas present that his parents living in homeless transitional housing won’t soon forget.
Sandling and Payne became homeless about four months ago and have been living at Casa de Belen in Roseburg, which offers transitional housing for homeless youth and helps them get their lives back on track.
Lincoln is the couple’s second child, arriving after his big brother, 18-month-old Hudson.
They had been behind on bills and were couch-hopping at friends’ homes, when a woman from the WIC program (Women, Infants & Children) recommended they try Casa de Belen to see if they could get some help. After Sandling checked it out, she told her boyfriend Payne about it, and he decided it was worth a try so the family could remain together.
“I really didn’t know about all the help that they could give you and how much support that they have behind them, and how much they are genuinely trying to help you get on your feet,” Sandling said.
Sandling said the experience at Casa de Belen has been a lot better than she envisioned, and it really feels like a family setting.
“Everybody is really nice to each other, and the staff here is just trying to help you,” she said.
And the Christmas party at Casa de Belen turned out to be an additional blessing for the family. A tree that was purchased at the Festival of Trees auction in early December was donated to the facility and the children’s items went to Sandling and Payne and their two young children.
“They gave us a lot of stuff we really needed. We got a bassinet from the baby shower, and we got a bed, changing table, a rocking chair, a diaper genie, a baby swing and a pack-and-go playpen,” Sandling said.
She also got kitchen and household items, plus clothes for all of the family and plenty of diapers for the baby and the toddler.
A couple of churches in the area helped provide presents for all the kids in the facility, and community members helped prepare a traditional Christmas dinner, said Penny McCue, executive director of Casa de Belen.
“It’s been a whole community effort, it’s been pretty awesome,” McCue said.
The parents and kids can live at the facility for months at at time, provided they comply with guidelines. There has to be someone in the family between the ages of 12 and 23, and if they haven’t had any offenses involving domestic violence or sexual abuse, they are invited in for an interview. Alcohol, drugs and tobacco are strictly prohibited. As long as they follow the rules, they can stay as long as they need to, to be able to provide for themselves.
“You have to be working, going to school or volunteering in the community to be able to live here, you have to be productive,” McCue said.
Sandling and Payne both dropped out of high school, but both are pursuing their GED and have plans to further their education.
Sandling has been attending Phoenix School and Payne is taking classes at the Woolley Center in Roseburg.
“The biggest thing that Casa de Belen has done for me is they’ve let me get my education and I don’t have to worry about where my family is going to get their next meal or the roof over their head,” Payne said. “I can do better for my family, and this place allows that; it’s been an awesome experience.”
After he gets his GED, Payne hopes to go on to Umpqua Community College but still hasn’t decided what he wants to do.
Sandling is on leave from the Phoenix School in Roseburg, but she’s planning to start again in February
They are both thankful for what Casa de Belen has been able to provide.
“We’re hoping it will lead to self-sufficiency, and we’ll be able to move out and do all this stuff on our own, and they’re the ones paving the way,” Payne said. “They’re showing us what and how, so we won’t end up doing the same things over again.”
McCue says when young people like Payne and Sandling come to live there, the situation is closely managed by a case manager who connects them to community resources to help them get their needs met, whether it’s medical, dental or therapeutic care, help enrolling in college or getting a job.
“We don’t change lives, people change their own lives,” McCue said. “We just give them the place to do it and connect them to the resources.”
When Sandling and Payne are ready to go into the job market, Casa de Belen will help them put together resumes, provide clothes to wear for job interviews and do mock interviews to prepare them for a real job interview.
Payne is considering some different options, including going into the military, and he’s also exploring the idea of being a counselor, and a few other options that he never thought he would have before the family found Casa de Belen.
Sandling is still not sure what vocation she wants to pursue, but once she gets the GED, she’ll have a lot more options to look at. Right now she’s concentrating on being a good mother for Hudson and Lincoln.
McCue says Payne and Sandling are serious about getting their education and becoming self-sufficient.
“They’re a darling little family, they want to be and are good parents, and they put their children first,” McCue said. “And we don’t want them to return to homelessness so we are super diligent about making sure they’re ready, and people can stay as long as they need to.”