Barry McDonald

Barry McDonald, 70, visited The Daily Sun to vent his frustration and desperation. He and his wife Laura have been sleeping in their car since March, as they cannot find affordable housing. Their combined monthly income is $1,600.

This is the first of a three-part series about helping the homeless.

PORT CHARLOTTE - The aging process takes a toll on one’s body. But imagine if you are over 70 and living in your car.

That became a reality for a local couple, when, after the loss of a business due to illness and a foreclosure on their home, they wound up living in their Nissan Kicks SUV with their Maltese dog.

Barry McDonald recently shared his story with The Daily Sun. His wife, Laura, had just been released from a local emergency room; she waited in their car while her husband told their story.

Laura McDonald, who had broken her back and has intestinal problems, sleeps in the front of the car while Barry McDonald, due to his medical problem, must lie prone across the back seat, he said. They have been living like this since March.

They spend their nights in the parking lot of a Race Trac gas station whose manager, McDonald said, has been kind to the couple.

“He asks us if we need anything.”

Their breakfasts and sandwiches are purchased from the station’s convenience store. They avail themselves of a hot meal at the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition, which serves dinners to those in need, 365 days of the year.

They also rely on Jesus Loves You Ministry, which allows them to shower and also offers meals.

But at night, the McDonalds retreat to their car where they sleep.

HOW IT BEGAN

McDonald’s father, Arnold, was a labor attorney who moved to Port Charlotte from Virginia. After the dissolution of a business partnership, he opened Copy Corner Printing on Olean Boulevard.

The business closed in 2018 after 35 years, said Barry McDonald, who moved here to work in the business with his father.

But then the elder McDonald became ill, and his son tried to run the business while helping to care for his father whose condition worsened, he said.

“He got so sick; me and my wife helped to care for him,” McDonald said.

His father took out a reverse mortgage and withdrew money to help keep the business going.

Medical bills mounted, the business suffered, and Barry McDonald’s own home — located across the street from his dad’s house — went into foreclosure.

“I got behind on my mortgage whose adjustable rate went up to 8½ percent,” he said.

Like a house of cards, the McDonalds’ business collapsed, and so did their homes.

His father, who died, did not lose everything. The family managed to hold onto their business property on Olean Boulevard, which is being rented out for several hundred dollars a month.

Meanwhile, Barry and Laura McDonald have been applying for affordable housing, but there are wait lists.

They have the option of selling the Olean property, as their current renter has expressed interest in buying the property in about a year.

But they need housing now, and something affordable, since their combined income totals $1,600 per month.

Being homeless doesn’t mean they don’t have expenses. Barry McDonald said their income is used to pay for their cell phone, water, food, medical expenses, other essentials, and gas for their vehicle.

“I’m working with the Section 8 people to help with my rent and get a place to move into,” he said.

The Housing Choice Voucher program, commonly referred to as Section 8, is a federal rent subsidy program under the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides vouchers to eligible households and rental assistance to private landlords for approved units selected by the voucher holder.

Rent under Section 8 can’t exceed 30 percent of the family’s income.

The Punta Gorda Housing Authority administers approximately 500 vouchers in Charlotte County, but there is a waiting list for those who hold them, as there simply are not enough affordable housing units, PGHA Executive Director Kurt Pentelecuc said.

He said while many more than 500 applied during the last opening for applications in April, only 500 were picked from an automated lottery system, and the current wait list exceeds 12 months.

Affordable apartment complexes in Charlotte County, including those for seniors 55 and older, all have wait lists, and Barry McDonald said he’s applied to many of them in Charlotte County and as far away as Tampa.

There are barriers that older homeless people face, said Jeff Watts, director of programs for the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition.

“Housing is expensive, and people on fixed incomes can’t pay for it,” he said.

“A lot of them (older people) have health problems. They might be disabled, or too old to work.”

He said in the case of a younger, healthier homeless person, they can find work or a better job and improve their situation.

But in the case of homeless who are elderly, “some might need to be in an assisted living facility, but they’re expensive,” Watts added.

A fixed income and inability to earn more money would close that door to them.

“It’s really a matter of economics,” Watts said.

Most elderly people who do wind up homeless don't have a family, he said.

"They have no social connections, or their kids live in other areas."

Watts compared today’s society to decades past “when grandma and grandpa would come to live with them.”

The McDonalds perhaps are typical of senior citizens who become homeless. He doesn’t have children, and Laura’s one daughter lives out of the area, while the other one can’t take them in, McDonald said.

Barry McDonald said he makes phone calls throughout the day, every day, to various agencies and apartments, checking for availability so that he and Laura can once again have a real roof over their heads.

Compounding the homeless situation in Charlotte County is the current real estate sellers’ market, Watts said.

“Landlords are selling their property,” he said.

This leaves less units for rent.

The Homeless Coalition’s shelter has four family rooms and 52 beds.

"And we run pretty full,” Watts said.

SECTION 8

ADDED PROBLEMS FOR OLDER HOMELESS

Read part 2 of this Daily Sun story in Sunday’s edition.

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