Liberian Family in US dreams of a home for new year after rising rent left them living in an RV

Katie Hall  / Austin American-Statesman

It’s not easy fitting a husband, a wife and two teenagers into one recreational vehicle, but the Kemokai family is still grateful to have theirs.

After a major rent increase priced them out of Round Rock, the family temporarily relocated to a hotel as they hunted for apartments within their price range.

“It’s unreal how high the cost of living is just to have a roof over your head,” said Christine Kemokai, 38.

The Kemokai family is one of 11 families featured in this year’s Statesman Season for Caring program, which helps hundreds of families through local nonprofit organizations. The Kemokais were nominated by Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.

Donations for this year’s Season for Caring agencies and families are being accepted through Jan. 31.

Roland and Clement Kemokai play music as Christine and Ben watch outside their trailer home in Granger. The Kemokai family makes their living in music and children’s party entertainment. After losing their apartment and hotel, they moved into an RV.

Kemokai’s husband, Roland Kemokai, 42, who is from Liberia, said he has sometimes had to face racial prejudice as he looked for housing for his family.

One day in Bastrop County, one man told him, “You don’t belong in this neighborhood. There’s nothing here to rent. If you don’t leave now, I’m calling the cops,” Roland Kemokai recalled.

The family eventually spoke to a man who said he could sell them an RV for a cheap price.

“I’ve got to warn you,” Roland Kemokai recalled him saying, “there’s a horrible oil leak. It’s smoking. That cylinder is broken. So drive on the shoulder or in the far-right lane.”

The moment the Kemokai family, which includes sons Clement, 17, and Ben, 15, managed to drive it out of the driveway, it broke down.

“By the time we got it on the road coming from Cedar Park, it kept cutting out in the middle of the road, smoke billowing everywhere,” Roland Kemokai said. “At one point, we were calling around, desperately trying to find a tow company.”

The family eventually planted their new home in a Granger RV park. “Not all who wander are lost,” says a sticker on their front door.

Still, they continued to face hardship once they got settled in Granger. One of the RV’s windows broke during a storm in late October.

“I stopped by Home Depot to get some things to cover it until we can figure out how to get it replaced,” Christine Kemokai said.

The Kemokais are hoping one day they can purchase a piece of land and have a house again.

“Being in a home would provide a safer, less scary environment for our family,” Christine Kemokai said.

They also need a more reliable vehicle, rent and utilities assistance for a new space, and gift cards for food and clothing.

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