Housing Crisis Hits Fire Victims Hard; Couple Could Be Homeless Friday

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Housing and homelessness

Jason Barbour and Judy Abbruzzese visit their former apartment in Dennis. A fire in the structure forced them from their home and as of Friday they could be homeless. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO


HARWICH — Jason Barbour and Judy Abbruzzese could be homeless on Friday.

The couple has been bouncing around since May 11 when fire and heavy toxic smoke destroyed their home in Dennis. But time and the generosity of others are now running out.

Having lost cherished belongings to the fire, along with their cat Bobo, they are facing the reality of the housing crisis on Cape Cod. They have been working with social services agencies, realtors, and the federal government trying to find a new home, but the effort has come up empty.

“I’m 58 years old and all I want is a roof over my head,” said Abbruzzese.

Barbour is familiar to a lot of people in Harwich. He has worked at the Star Market on Sisson Road for nearly seven years. He is often seen retrieving shopping carriages in the parking lot, and always happy to help elderly residents place grocery bags in the trunk or back seat of a vehicle.

For years Barbour could be seen riding a bicycle to and from work in all kinds of weather. His commitment to working at the market has been so appreciated that one woman purchased an electric motor bike for him to ride.

But the future has not been very clear for them since they were awoken at 12:30 a.m on May 11 as fire and thick smoke filled the quadriplex on Union Wharf Road in which they lived. They escaped with little, could not locate their cat, and left the door open in hopes Bobo could get out. The cat was found on the lawn the next morning suffering serious respiratory problems and was later put to rest. The fire started in a dryer being used by one of the other residents.

Abbruzzese said the Red Cross provided them with a $500 check for immediate lodging, which covered a couple of days in a hotel in Hyannis while they searched for housing. The couple connected with the St. Vincent de Paul Ministry at Holy Trinity Church in West Harwich. Barbour and Abbruzzese were provided lodging at the Sea Breeze Inn in Harwich at a reduced rate for a time, and St. Vincent de Paul helped out with the rent. But the inn was fully booked for the summer. The Holy Trinity Church volunteers located a room for them in the Doryman Motel in Dennis, at a reduced rate, and St. Vincent de Paul continued to help out with rent.

“We’re tapped out,” Bob Johnson, a member advocate with St. Vincent de Paul, said of the funding impact associated with the assistance.

There are also no longer rooms available at the Doryman Motel, which is booked through the summer.

“Friday is our last day at the Doryman,” Abbruzzese said. “While we’re looking and waiting, we’ll take anything, even a small room.”

Abbruzzese has a Section 8 federal housing certificate which assures rental assistance, but she has had no luck in finding an apartment. She has been working with social service agencies and real estate offices, but there is just no housing available, she said.

But there are scam artists waiting to prey on folks like them, Abbruzzese said. She related stories of contacts through Craig’s List and Rental.com, which sent an addresses but told her she could not enter the units because someone was staying there at the time. She was told if she sent $1,400, the unit would be available.

“The scammers are still on those sites,” she said.

If they cannot locate a unit where the Section 8 certificate is acceptable by Sept. 21, the federal government will pull the certificate, Abbruzzese said. It’s a “use it or lose” situation, she said.

The couple had great praise for the work of the St. Vincent de Paul volunteers. Abbruzzese said they’ve been collecting furniture for them in hopes of landing an apartment in the near future.

Johnson said the waiting lists for housing are so long but he hopes someone will step forward and help the couple out. He said the Section 8 certificate could cover as much as 70 to 80 percent of monthly rent.

But it’s not about the money, he said, it’s about finding the couple housing at a difficult time.