Homeless Coach, the Westlake-based foundation that helps hook up the homeless to the Austin community via the Internet, is asking for help in getting a family of 12 back on its feet.
Buffie and Daniel Hoffman and their 10 children, ranging in ages from 9 months to 14, have been in Austin since the end of August. For the most part, they’ve been homeless. But now, thanks to a 70-year-old cashier at a major discount retailer named Betty, the family has found a temporary home.
The family left Wisconsin on Aug. 7, 2011 and headed in a nine-passenger Dodge Durango with 10 pets to Granbury, Texas, where Daniel was hoping to find a job at the Comanche Peak Power Plant. When the job failed to materialize, they headed to Austin with hopes of finding support from the community and work in the Internet technology field.
They initially spent a few nights in motels paid for by local churches and nonprofit organizations. They spent two short stint at a home lent by an out-of-town owner, and they have spent more than a few nights in their car in retail parking lots.
“The Hoffmans are a good, loving family that has spiraled from riches to rags and are now at significant risk of breakup – not by their own choosing, but by misinterpretation and intervention by well-meaning groups,” said Tom Baum, Homeless Coach founder. “The longer they stay homeless, the higher the chances of eventual breakup.”
The sheer size of the family with the addition of pets makes it difficult for many agencies to help them, Baum said. Since arriving in Austin, the family has received a leased 32-foot travel trailer and a used car donated by Eanes school district bus driver Roger Sanchez and his wife, Judy. The Hoffmans used the car and their old Durango to trade up to a 15-passenger van with enough seatbelts for everyone. But they ran into problems finding a place to hook up the RV.
“We found that RV parks have a problem with children; many don’t allow children at all,” Daniel said.
In 2008, things were looking pretty rosy for the Hoffman family. Daniel was working as the COO for a Wisconsin manufacturing company where Buffie worked as vice president of marketing. When their paychecks began to bounce, Buffie quit. Daniel hung on, but later lost his job when the company went out of business, the Hoffman’s said. Soon, the family lost its townhome.
“We used to live in a really nice home with a walk-around fireplace, a playroom and a kitchen with double ovens and tile floors,” Buffie said. “I never imagined we could be where we are now.”
The Hoffman’s do not receive welfare. They do receive food stamps and medical benefits through Medicaid. They calculate that it would take a salary of at least $60,000 a year to feed their family and pay for the expenses associated with connecting the RV. Taking a job for less would put the family in even more trouble, with the loss of food stamps, Daniel said. He spends most of his daytime hours looking for jobs and interviewing. His resume; reflecting solid experience in IT, sales, marketing and manufacturing management; is online at linkedin.com. So far, the job hunt has not been fruitful.
“We have several companies that I have contacted, and they have contacted me back,” Daniel said. “I have even done a couple of phone interviews, but nothing solid has turned up yet. So, onward we push.”
Being homeless and unemployed made it impossible for the Hoffmans to find a place to live, and without a stable address, it has been harder for Daniel to find a job. Homelessness forms a vicious cycle, Baum said.
“We focused on finding stable housing and storage for their belongings,” Baum said. “Our new priority is finding work that would pay enough for them to be self-sufficient.”
Now living on Betty’s 6-acres in a 4-bedroom country home in a rural town outside Austin, there is plenty of room for the Hoffman’s large family and all their pets. The home also gives Buffie more room to continue homeschooling her older children. Rather than accept a handout, the Hoffman’s are working in exchange for their lodging, helping Betty organize, repair and maintain her home. And they have safe transportation to and from the home.
Things are beginning to look up for the family, but, like any parent, Buffie worries how the family’s experience has affected her children.
“For the most part, they haven’t seemed to mind it,” she said. “To them, it’s one big adventure.”
While not all the lessons of the last year have been lessons the Hoffmans wanted to teach their children, they are doing their best to put the experience in a positive light.
“They’ve learned about resilience and about the power of community – how people can work together,” Buffie said. “And it all just reinforces something they have always understood as fundamental – the importance of family.”
Immediate needs for the Hoffman family
Employment amounting to combined income of at least $60,000
Donations to cover Internet service at their temporary home
Money for gas for the car and to cover Betty’s increased utility bills
Donations can be made to the Hoffman Relief Fund through homelesscoach.org.