Nancy,(left) and Karl Stoll
BUFFALO, NY - "We intended on being here for only a couple of weeks," said Karl Stoll, as he gazed around the cramped motel room that has now served as living quarters for himself, his wife Nancy, and their dog and cat for nearly three months.
Stoll, 54, has been disabled nearly all his life...beset by a myriad of medical maladies including juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, scoliosis, and a heart condition. In more recent years, he also has undergone knee and hip replacements.
Despite all that, he'd still been able to make a way for himself, most recently as a car salesman.
But in March, 2009 Stoll suffered a spinal cord infarction, rendering him a paraplegic and confining him to a wheel chair.
"It took my legs away," he said.
Once the legs were gone, so was his job. Then his home.
"Our house was foreclosed on...and they booted us out," he stated matter-of-factly.
Given the tough economy, the Stolls knew they weren't alone in suddenly being homeless. But they had no idea how much company they had, until they reached out to Belmont Housing Resources hoping to be placed into the federal rent subsidy program known as Section VIII.
Belmont is one of three agencies in Erie County which administers the program on behalf of the federal government.
"They told us that we were on an 87-month waiting list," said Stoll. "I couldn't believe it. I realize that the recent economic downturn has put a lot of people out, but 87 months ..what's that, 7 years? How can anybody wait 7 years for housing?"
"Unfortunately, that's the sad reality," said Kathy O'Brien, Belmont's Vice President for Housing Programs.
O'Brien told WGRZ-TV that while her agency has the ability to fund rental assistance for 5,500 families each and every month in Erie County, the number currently on the waiting list for such assistance is a staggering 24,000.
"There are a lot of people who need help," said O'Brien, noting the number of Western New Yorkers who have lost jobs and houses, and who still can't find work to help them rise from the abyss.
"I wish I could say that I think applications are going to fall off, but I don't see this happening," she said.
For example, while O'Brien says her agency has been able to place nearly 1,800 families into subsidized housing in 2010, the number of new applicants during that same time was roughly 3,400 --nearly twice as many.
"And the federal government recently has not been putting a lot of new funding into this program," she said.
Adding to the backlog is the fact that unlike welfare or unemployment benefits, there is no "maxing out" or cut off time for Section VIII rent subsidies.
"People are not leaving the program...and in the case of senior citizens in subsidized housing, they are living longer."
Nancy Stroll, who was also stricken with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, is also disabled. And even if she were to gain employment, someone would still need to tend to her husband.
"There's a lot of people who have other options, but my wife is my full time caretaker and I'm trapped here," said Karl Stoll. "There's not a whole lot I can do ...we can't live on the street because given our situation, we wouldn't last a week," he said.
Their living space, crowded by boxes of the belonging they were able to bring with them, is also where they take their meals.
Sometimes, they are graced with food brought over by friends.
On most occasions, though, they retrieve what they can from the cold cuts and milk they have stashed in a mini refrigerator, preparing meals on a hot-plate or on the gas grill which they say the motel owner graciously allowed them to keep next to the wheelchair ramp which leads to the door of their first floor abode.
The Stolls don't ever expect their lives to be easy. After all, their lives never have been. And while their surroundings may be bleak, their spirit--while being tried on a consistent basis--endures.
"I will be looking for work again once we get settled. But that's down the road a piece," Karl said.
These current accommodations, though, are costing them $700 per month, and literally devouring the disability benefits they receive through social security.
"We're spending more money a month here than what it was costing us to live in a house."
"There are some other other places where they may be able to find housing that's more affordable than what they have today," said O'Brien, who offered to personally intervene in the Stoll's case to try and help them.
Grateful for that, the Stolls are also hopeful that someone in Western New York reading this might also be of assistance, particularly if they have an apartment which is wheelchair accessible, allows cats and dogs, and which can be rented for a reasonable amount.
"I'm just trying to find us a place to live," said Karl, his voice breaking just for a moment. "If they've got a place..maybe they can help us...because we're just at our wits end," he said.
Click on the video icon to the right to watch the story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bill Boyer.