Ministry seeks housing help for elderly Hawkins woman

Jeff Bobo • Dec 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — The squalor of 84-year-old Vergie Bowlin’s home exceeds the worst Appalachian poverty stereotypes.

A widow since 1969, Bowlin has no running water. No bathroom. No shower. No bathtub.

Her rural Hawkins County home does have an outhouse about 30 feet from the house, but it doesn’t have a door. The outhouse looks like a strong wind could knock it over, and it’s in worse condition than the house.

Inside the house the ceiling is made from cardboard boxes, and the old sheetrock walls have swollen and deteriorated over time and are literally held together by the wallpaper.

Bowlin totes water to wash and cook with in gallon plastic jugs from a neighboring house. There is a kitchen sink, but the floor beneath it is collapsing, and one end of the kitchen sink is 6 inches lower than the other.

There’s a pile of empty water jugs in a corner of the kitchen where the outer wall has come apart from the foundation. Some of the jugs have started to work their way through the wall and are visible from the outside.

A few windows are broken, and Bowlin uses old newspapers to insulate cracks in the window and door frames.

One good thing about the house is a large coal-burning stove in her tiny living room, which keeps her warm. Unfortunately, someone recently stole part of her coal supply from the pile in her yard, and she’s hoping for warmer weather until the end of the month when she’ll buy her next load.

Bowlin’s home, located 15 miles north of Rogersville on Byrd Creek Road near the Hancock County line, didn’t reach this advanced state of deterioration overnight.

Somehow she unwittingly managed to stay off the radar of area organizations that could have helped her years ago.

That is until earlier this month when her daughter, who lives near Bowlin on the same home place tract of land, went to Of One Accord Ministries in Rogersville seeking help for Bowlin.

Every summer Of One Accord hosts visiting groups that come to Hawkins County to help make repairs at the homes of the elderly and impoverished.

Upon receiving the request for help, Of One Accord Director Sheldon Livesay went to inspect Bowlin’s house. It didn’t take long for him to realize her house is beyond repair.

“In my 20 years experience, this is probably among the worst five that I’ve been to, ...” Livesay said. “The house isn’t repairable, and due to her age it’s not really a good idea to go in and tear the house down and try to find money to build another one. But she’s got a beautiful garden spot right next to her house that would be a perfect place for a single-wide mobile home.

“She doesn’t have a bathroom. She doesn’t have water. Doesn’t have a septic tank. So all of that could be connected at this location beside her home to give her a comfortable, clean, healthy environment to live in.”

Livesay is asking the community to help the ministry raise enough money to buy a used mobile home for Bowlin. If someone has a decent mobile home that they’re willing to donate, that would work too.

He just knows she can’t continue to live in the existing conditions for much longer.

“If we could find a home for $4,000 to 5,000, we could move it for about $2,500, get the electric set up for $1,200, and build decks,” Livesay said. “I’ve already applied for a USDA grant for a septic system, and her neighbor has said she could tap on to his water line. A little over $9,000 would add a great deal of comfort to this lady’s life.”

Livesay took the Times-News to visit Bowlin Wednesday and to drop off a Christmas food box from the ministry.

Bowlin said she’s in good health. Her daughter takes her for regular checkups, and she said the only thing the doctor tells her is to watch her blood pressure.

Bowlin said she’s just not physically able to do repairs around the house, and doesn’t have any help.

“I’d like to have a place,” Bowlin said. “I can’t clean this old place up. I haven’t been able to fix anything.”

She said it’s not easy living alone.

“Trash piles up, and I’m not able to carry it off,” she said. “I can’t walk good, and I’m afraid to get out there and walk and fall and break my hip or something. Then there wouldn’t be nobody but me, and I’d just be laying here.”

Anyone interested in helping pay for a new home for Bowlin is asked to call Of One Accord Ministries at 921-8044.

“Her living conditions are just Appalachia at its worst ... but when people in our area hear about problems like this they tend to do something about it, and that’s Appalachia at its best,” Livesay said.

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