TWIN FALLS — A Chihuahua barked inside a motel room at the Old Towne Lodge in downtown Twin Falls.
On that day, Jan. 11, Christy Nagel, her husband and two children had lived at the motel for about a week. They used to live in a camping trailer in an Addison Avenue West trailer park. But the trailer’s sewer line busted, leaving the family without running water, too.
Nagel and her husband paid for a motel room for January and February.
“It’s hard,” she said, but at least they’re warm and have a roof over their heads.
Nagel stays home with two children, and her husband works for a potato-processing company. “It’s really rough on a one-person income,” she said.
Her grandson Nathanial, 6 — whom they’ve raised since birth — goes to I.B. Perrine Elementary School. Robert Stuart Middle School student Amber, 14, with hair dyed blue, sat on the bed next to her mother, wearing earbuds. Her eyes didn’t leave her cellphone screen.
Later that month, on Jan. 19, Twin Falls streets were icy and slushy in the midst of a winter storm. Nagel was in the motel room alone, talking on her cellphone with her oldest daughter, who’s 28 and lives out of the area. The dog, Jitters, was stretched out in her arms as she scratched under his chin.
Her husband had dropped off the children at school on his way to work.
“I won’t drive in slush,” Nagel said.
Nagel, who called herself a private person, hadn’t told the schools about her family’s living situation.
“I’m really embarrassed about it,” she said.
A comforter from one of the beds covered most of the motel room window that morning. Pairs of shoes were on the floor near the doorway. A three-burner propane stove sat on the floor, and dirty clothes were piled underneath an entertainment stand with a flat-screen television.
It was a rare moment of quiet, which Nagel enjoys.
“The adjustment is going good,” she said. Amber and Nathanial “have an issue with the being-quiet thing. They’re kids.”
The family plans to move to Bullhead City, Ariz., by mid-March — after a tax refund arrives.
“We’re hooking up our trailer and getting out of here,” Nagel said.
They’ll live in the trailer until they get on their feet. Nagel’s older daughter and sister-in-law plan to move to nearby Las Vegas.
For years Nagel and her husband worked in the casino industry — she as a cocktail waitress, he as a card dealer — and they hope to find casino work again. Nagel is confident they’ll get into a better living situation.
“With both of us working, it shouldn’t take long,” she said. Serving cocktails is easy money but hard on her body because it requires standing for hours.
Nagel, born and raised in Monterey, Calif., misses palm trees and is excited they’ll be closer to the beach. Her husband and children have never seen the ocean.
The children are excited about moving, she said. “They are so sick of the cold.”
The family moved to Twin Falls 15 years ago to follow Nagel’s brother-in-law, who opened businesses in the area.
They’ve been through a lot.
About 14 years ago, Nagel’s 5-month-old daughter died. Nagel was told it was sudden infant death syndrome, but she’s not sure she believes it.
Amber is exactly one year younger, to the date.
Before the trailer, the family lived in a fourplex near I.B. Perrine Elementary and Robert Stuart. It had three bedrooms and two bathrooms, but they couldn’t afford the $950 per month, Nagel said. “It was just killing us.”
At the motel, the children have to be quiet early in the morning and at night because an older man lives downstairs. Nathanial’s Ninja Turtles mat on the floor allows him to play with his toy trucks without being too loud.
Amber can sit 24/7 and play Minecraft, Nagel said. Her daughter got a computer for Christmas so she can play games.
“When summer comes, we will be outside,” Nagel said. The family usually goes to a park for free lunches provided by the Twin Falls School District and a couple of hours of play.
But during winter, Nagel tries to keep the children indoors. They get sick a lot.
Around the Old Towne Lodge, everyone is friendly, she said. The owner brought a full-size refrigerator to their room when she told him they have children. It allows her to buy cheap frozen dinners to heat in the microwave.
Nagel also goes to a Spanish-language church on Main Avenue once a week to get free bread.
While her children are at school, she catches up on television shows, washes dishes in the bathroom sink and uses the motel’s laundry room.
When the family is home, they keep to themselves. “I don’t really like getting into people’s drama,” Nagel said. “I have my own crap going on.”
For the children, doing homework at the motel and getting up on school days is tough.
Nagel said both of the children are doing well academically though they “absolutely hate school.”
Amber, an eighth-grader, loves a class where she’s learning about cooking and sewing. She also enjoys math. Amber has a 504 educational plan — a plan for students with physical or mental disabilities, allowing for them to get accommodations while staying in regular classrooms.
Nathanial, in first grade, is smart and likes math, Nagel said. At home, he loves watching children’s shows such as “Curious George” on Netflix.
Nagel said her grandson used to battle against doing homework but doesn’t anymore and even reminds her when it’s time.
For Amber, “they let her do all of her homework at school,” Nagel said. “The second she thinks she has to bring home homework, she freaks out. It’s not pretty.”
On weekends, the family hangs out at the motel. Nagel said she’d love to go skating or bowling if they could afford it.
“We don’t have the money.”
JEROME — Homeless students aren’t always displaced with their families.
Sometimes, they’re on their own.
That’s what happened to 18-year-old Karelis Garcia. She recently graduated from Jerome High School a semester early, thanks to taking online and summer classes.
She qualified as homeless and had the option of getting extra help through the Jerome School District. But she has a roof over her head and a job to support herself.
About five years ago, her mother and brother moved to Mexico. Karelis stayed behind and was going to school in Gooding but “just wanted to try something new,” she said.
She spent her freshman year at Jerome High, went back to Gooding High School for her sophomore year and returned to Jerome for junior year.
With her dad’s approval, she lived with an aunt in Jerome. But on Aug. 26, her dad died — just a couple of days into Karelis’ senior year.
“Things got difficult,” she said.
“Sometimes you’ve gotta grow up sooner than you—,” she added later, her voice trailing off.
The Jerome School District constantly offered help, Karelis said, such as counseling and connections with community resources for food and clothing.
“They were really good about that,” she said. “I didn’t really take it because I felt other people might be more in need than I am.”
Karelis got a job as a waitress at La Campesina Restaurant and moved in with her boyfriend in a neighborhood off Tiger Drive.
During fall semester, she went to school for three classes, then headed off to work. Now, she works a full schedule.
With a job, she said, “I can pay things off.” Her boyfriend helps out, too.
On a chilly afternoon Jan. 26, Karelis was at La Campesina on South Lincoln Avenue, wearing all black and her hair pulled back into a long braid.
At 4 p.m., there were a few full tables as recorded mariachi music played. Between serving customers, Karelis sat in a booth and rolled clean silverware into paper napkins.
She’s sending money to her mother and brother in Mexico — something her father did before he died.
And her future?
“Right now, I’m kind of like in-between with what’s going to happen,” Karelis said.
She hopes to enroll at the College of Southern Idaho within the next year and wants to become a certified nursing assistant.