'Tis Not the Season

A clan highlighted by the Sentinel gets the boot

Indeed, Clean It All did receive more calls after the article appeared November 30, 2001. The business, however, was dogged by the dilapidated vehicles they could afford. "We had to turn a lot of the work down because we couldn't get to Boca," Charmaine says. "We had no help to get out there. We were on our own completely." Once, after earning $65 cleaning one day, their car broke down. It cost $55 just to get it towed.

Calls from sympathetic Sun-Sentinel readers didn't last long. And the economic slump wasn't friendly to start-ups. "When the economy gets hard, really hard, the first thing that gets cut back is the cleaning service," Anthony says. "We advertised, but after a while, there was no response."

On September 5, 2002, Plymouth Colony management announced that residents would henceforth be limited to one-year stays. Extensions would be allowed only if a family member had entered an education or vocational program. On November 5, case manager Lillie Johnson denied the Johnsons additional time. She scheduled a "move out" meeting and advised via memo that failure to attend meant "your locks will be changed and you will be terminated from the program."

Although the Nelsons had only two months before their two-year end date, they say they needed the time to file tax returns, which would provide evidence of two years of financial history for landlords and mortgage companies. "When they pulled the rug out from under us," Anthony laments, "it completely threw our plan out the window."

The Salvation Army's Farrus Baker explains the notice this way: "We really try to make way for new people to come in once a family has achieved self-sufficiency. I know it's pretty comfortable to stay in that apartment and only pay $300, which takes care of basically all your needs except for food. We need to look at the bigger picture." She added that the Nelsons routinely left their children unattended in their apartment, a charge the couple vehemently denies.

Baker was unaware that the family was now living motel to motel.

When the Nelsons recently received their $500 deposit back from Plymouth Colony, they rented a minivan and drove their four children to Charmaine's mother's home in North Carolina. Anthony recalls his mother-in-law saying, "The help you guys could really use right now is for me to take all four kids."

Since then, the couple has received a few cleaning jobs by day and rented cheap motels by night. "Whatever coupon we find for that night is pretty much where we lay our heads at," he says. "This is the wicked cycle we go through."

On December 11, the Sun-Sentinel ran a new success story from within the walls of Plymouth Colony, this time about a 30-year-old single mother of five who's working full-time and takes classes to become a nurse. The Nelsons suspect Plymouth Colony managers wanted last year's "successes" out before a new cast was ushered in for the holidays.

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