The Dark Horizon
The first and most important thing to do is calm down. Keep a clear head. Yes, the situation is dire, but it's not yet a catastrophe. America does have (some) social safety nets, and you're smarter and more capable than you think. You won't hit rock bottom unless you have a substance-abuse or mental problem*, or you -- for whatever reason -- want to rough it in the great urban outdoors.
If you're facing eviction, like we did, you have a little time to act. Check the resources here, or Google "eviction" modified by your state. North Carolina, for example, requires the landlord to take you to court, then wait ten days (assuming you don't catch up the rent before then) before executing any judgment, then it's at least 3-5 more days before the sheriff sends notice of when he'll be by to padlock the door. But don't dawdle. Time is of the essence.
If your landlord is definitely booting you out (and s/he will surely let you know if that's the case), then you'll want to just hang on to any rent money you have on hand. You can either rent a new place (if your credit is good and you act quickly before the judgment hits the record books) or pay expenses with it. If you can get into a new place quickly, excellent. My work here is done. But if not, keep reading...
Take stock of all funds you have on hand, in the bank, and coming in. This is critical. You'll have a lot of emergency expenses coming over the course of the next week or two. The more cash you can lay your hands on, the better. If you can swing loans from your friends, do so, but write down who loaned you what so you can pay them back later. Assuming you want to keep them as friends, of course.
Block out a couple hours' time (at least), get a pad and pencil, and a phone book. You'll need to research storage centers, moving van rentals or portable storage options such as Pack Rat or PODS, and if you have pets, kennels or veterinarians. Most vets will board pets for a reasonable fee. Write down those businesses that seem promising based on your personal criteria. For instance, when I rented the storage locker, I used only two criteria: price and location. Be prepared to make some concessions. I found a storage center with a very good price, but it's not convenient to get to. I was willing to give up the convenience for the price, however. At any rate, once you have these numbers, call, call, call. Talk to many different vendors to get a range of prices and services. Once you have you preliminary list, whittle it down based on your requirements and preferences until you've picked one or two of each. Then dip into your funds to rent, reserve or otherwise retain these services.
You will also need to research as much about your local homeless programs as you can. Of course, if you have a family, you should look into your local Interfaith Hospitality Network, but if you're a single, other homeless shelters may be an option for you. Be sure to look into their entrance criteria and what their safety level is like. I have heard horror stories of people being robbed or otherwise taken advantage of at some of the less-reputable ones. If you can't find much information about local programs, or get the runaround (as we did) at least contact your local Department of Social Services. But don't quit. Some programs are not very well known. Stay on top of it. Buttonhole those who don't want to talk to you or want to hide behind regulations and other foolishness. Get referrals from school counselors, clergy and career counselors. Go after info on these programs the same way you'd go about getting a job you really want. Sooner or later, you'll mine useful information.
If you have kids, keeping them in school is of paramount importance; they'll need the structure of that routine. The federal government passed something called the McKinney-Vento Act, which is supposed to mandate school services for homeless kids. How each community enforces its act may vary, however, so talk to your central school administration office. Ask for the Homeless Liaison. You will need to know as soon as possible where you'll be going so you can arrange school bus transportation for them.
You will need to rent a Post Office Box, or ask a friend or family member to receive your mail. Get a change of address form from the Post Office and have your mail sent there as soon as possible. Don't delay with this, because it'll take about ten days to have the mail rerouted, and you don't want to have to spend part of your precious time checking two (or more) mail drops.
Once you've got your P.O. Box (or alternative mail drop) selected, your storage unit rentes, your moving van reserved, and your pets taken care of, you're ready to start packing. We engaged in a huge flurry of packing and stuffing almost at the last minute because I was busy fending off the Beast, but try to spread your packing over the course of about a week at least. You want to be able to put everything into the van in good order once you pick it up. Enlist as much help as you're comfortable with. You should be able to focus solely on packing since you've done all the renting and reserving up until this point.
Remember to make a little time for yourself, to fend off any Beasts you have. You still have to eat, bathe and take care of business. You still have to be entertained; you may want to leave one TV or radio as the last thing to pack. You should leave your rental unit reasonably clean; if you've had a good relationship with your landlord up until this point, it may help him/her give you a reference somewhere else. resist the urge to trash the place, even if your landlord's a jerk. And you still have to take care of your family; remember, they're in this mess too, and just as distraught as you are. Keep up with family and friends, so they can pass along any advice or other help they may have.
By eviction day, you should be ready to simply drive your stuff to the unit, return the truck, and report to your homeless program. If you have to stay in ahotel, try to get the safest, cleanest one you can while remaining in your price range. Extended Stay hotels are helpful here, as the rates are by the week instead of the day. The Suburban Extended Stay Hotel was our home for a week, and it was pretty good. Just remember to pay them promptly, because they don't have to give notice to evict you if you don't.
Finally, remember to have your utilities disconnected at your old place, and negotiate any final bills you may have.
The aftermath may feel to you like a loss. Allow yourself to grieve (as appropriate) and adjust. Get counseling if you have to, but don't let your emotions at this time overwhelm you. Remember, your Beast will choose this time to strike. Don't let it stand in the way of getting your business done.
This is a lot, and I'm pretty sure I may have forgotten something. Forgive me if I sound a little pompous or seem to be teetering on a soapbox, but hopefully these basics will help someone avoid some of what I went through. In a perfect world, of course, none of us would need such advice, but Eden's** a long way from here...
*In which case, stop reading this, get up from your computer and get help now. Check your phone book for sources, or contact your local Department of Social Services.
**I mean the Garden, not Eden, NC...
Michael, God loves you and your family and He has a plan for your life. I pray that you would seek Him first during this crisis in your life. He wants to love you and teach you and walk with you through it.
"...seek first the kingdom of God..."
Just wanted to say good luck, and I'm sure you will do okay!
And as one person said, get Google AdSense. This would be one time I click it!
I cannot offer much advice right now, except to say, "This too shall pass."
And thank you for your blog. Your success in handling the Beast will motivate others too.