August 14, 2013 - Single mother Sharon Carnes desperately wants financial independence, security for her family and to help parents like her care for their special needs children.
The Carnes family consists of (clockwise
from right) Curtis, Brandon, Sharon and Benjamin. The dogs are Chloe (left) and Shadow. (click for larger version)
But she needs a new home to make it all happen and money is scarce.
"I've got to provide for my kids and in providing for my kids, I can provide for others. That's my goal," said the Oxford Township resident.
"I want to get off of SSI (Supplemental Security Income). I want to get my kids off SSI. Whatever I can do to get off government assistance. I don't like being on government assistance."
In order to accomplish those goals, Carnes is seeking up to $15,000 in donations to purchase a home of her own. Folks can donate by visiting www.gofundme.com/3tux9c. As of Aug. 13, she had raised $100.
The first $10,000 would be used for a down payment, while the rest would help pay closing costs, inspection fees, moving expenses and for any immediate repairs that might be necessary.
Carnes would like to find a four-bedroom home in Lapeer County with at least 2 acres of land. Something with a second home on it, such as a carriage house, would be ideal to provide "transitional housing" for her older sons.
"That will give them a better shot at living on their own," she explained.
Being able to acquire some property of their own would finally give Carnes and her three special needs sons a permanent home as opposed to the Red Barn Drive rental they've lived in for 11 years, but will soon have to leave because the owner wishes to sell it. Their lease expires at the end of September and the family must be out by November.
A home of her own with some land would allow Carnes to open a business that provides respitecare for autistic kids and other special needs children.
Such services give parents and other family members a much-needed break from their 24/7 role as caregivers.
"Respite services allows the parents or caregivers that bit of time to unwind and not have the pressure of always having to watch every single step a child takes," she said. "They need rest, too."
Carnes knows firsthand how challenging it can be to raise and care for special needs children.
Her oldest son, Curtis, 19, and her youngest son, Benjamin, 12, both have high-functioning autism. Curtis' autism is "mild," while Benjamin's case is "severe." Benjamin also suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the mistreatment she claims he suffered while attending a neighboring school district.
"I have not been officially tested, but I believe I am on the (autism) spectrum as well," Carnes noted. "Every time I filled out a form evaluating (my sons), I could pinpoint things in my childhood that applied."
Her middle son, Brandon, 17, suffers from multiple emotional impairments such as anxiety and depression.
Although the boys' father pays child support, he lives out of state and is not involved in their lives, so Carnes struggles to raise the trio on her own.
Her housing situation has only added to her burden.
She can't simply move to another rental home because the family has pets, namely a Border Collie/Huskie mix (Chloe), a Shih Tzu (Shadow) and a ferret named Jumper.
Most rentals don't allow pets.
But these animals are so much more than just pets, they're an "extremely important" part of the family's dynamic.
Whenever Benjamin has a stressful behavioral episode, which Carnes described as "melting down," she uses the animals to soothe him. For instance, whenever he cries, Chloe immediately starts licking his face and comforting him.
"It brings him around," she said. "It helps him settle down, cool off and get back to that level where he can communicate with people," she said.
Carnes is training Chloe to be a therapy dog for Benjamin.
That's just one of the reasons Carnes wants to finally own a home.
Another is the fact that most landlords, including her current one, prohibit tenants from operating businesses on residential properties.
Being able to start a home-based respite care business would allow Carnes to finally work again and strive for the financial independence she desires.
Right now, she receives SSI because she's disabled. She's undergone two neck surgeries, has a bulging disc in her lower back and suffers from nerve damage in both arms and hands.
Besides helping herself, Carnes believes this type of business would help fill a void in this area.
"In Oxford and Lapeer, there are no people that provide respite service," she said. "With the number of autistic children we have in this area, there's a huge need for it."
She explained that respite care is especially important for married couples, who need some stress-free time alone.
Carnes knows firsthand how valuable that break can be because a girlfriend provides respite care for her.
"Those couple hours a week are golden for me," she said. "I can go to the store. I can take a nap. I can take a shower without worrying if he's wandering out of the house."
Owning a home with some land is also a way to provide some security for her sons should anything ever happen to her. She's looking at it as an investment for their future.
"They'll have a home they won't have to leave," she said. "I don't think my middle or my youngest (sons) will ever live on their own, especially my youngest. My oldest has a shot."
Through the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Development program, Carnes was approved for a $63,000 loan to purchase a home in Lapeer County.
But that's easier said than done.
"I can't find anything with four bedrooms and any amount of land for $63,000," Carnes said.
All the federal regulations attached to this Rural Development loan pose another obstacle. "There's just so many restrictions," Carnes said. "The house has to be almost perfect."
By soliciting $15,000 in funds through www.gofundme.com/3tux9c, Carnes hopes to expand her price range and financing options.
She believes if she can raise enough money for a down payment, which is typically 10 percent of the sale price, she could probably qualify for a loan through the Federal Housing Administration.
"I've got an excellent rental history," she said. "I've never been late on any of my bills. I've got good credit."
Carnes believes her best shot at home ownership is in Lapeer County, not only because the Rural Development loan is only valid there, but because "the taxes are lower and the housing prices are lower" than Oakland County.
Plus, she wants to remain as close to Oxford as possible mainly because her family attends the Oxford Free Methodist Church.
She also doesn't want her boys to lose their friends here or her oldest son, Curtis, to lose the part-time job he so enjoys.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.