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After losing apartment to fire, family finds new home in time for holidays

  • Shaye Campbell, 9, becomes excited when he has an idea to decorate the walls of his new room with old license plates. Campbell was living in a tent back in September after his family’s apartment was lost in an accidental fire. LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Shaye Campbell, 9, and his stepmother, Vicki Cobb, look at ornaments on the Christmas tree in their new apartment in Chichester last Wednesday. BELOW: The family was living in a tent after their home burned down in September. LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Shaye Campbell, 9, walks by his father holding a stuffed animal in their new apartment in Chichester.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Shaye Campbell, 9, hugs his dog, Max, while playing around at his kitchen table with his father, Mark Aucoin, and his father’s girlfriend, Vicki Cobb.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Shaye Campbell, 9, plays fetch with his dog, Max, at his family’s new apartment in Chichester.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Mark Aucoin leans down to pet his dog, Max, while his 9-year-old son Shaye sits on his bed in the family’s new Chichester apartment.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Vicki Cobb and Mark Aucoin hug Aucoin’s son Shaye at their apartment in Chichester last Wednesday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Shaye Campbell, 9, plays with toy cars at his family’s kitchen table next to his father’s girlfriend, Vicki Cobb.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 12/24/2018 2:57:07 PM

For Shaye Campbell, this year was no ordinary Christmas.

Days before the holiday, the 9-year-old ran around his family’s Chichester apartment, showing off their seven-foot-tall tree, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ornaments and hand-decorated stockings.

He said he was hoping for a skateboard and guitar from Santa this year.

But his father, Mark Aucoin, said all of his Christmas wishes had already come true.

“I’m just happy we have four walls and a roof,” Aucoin said.

It’s something the family didn’t have four months ago, when they were living in a campground in New Hampton after they were forced out of their Franklin apartment after an accidental fire.

The family had tried to find a place that would house the three of them – plus their two dogs, Max and Duke – for around what they were paying for the Franklin apartment, which was $700 a month. They didn’t have much luck, and wound up living in a tent at a New Hampton campground.

It wasn’t until one woman in Chichester read their story in the Monitor and offered them a space in the bottom floor of her house that they were finally able to find a new home. The price was right at $700, plus heat and electric, and she even let them use a kitchen table, bookshelves and other furniture that other tenants had left behind. 

“She was a godsend,” said Aucoin’s girlfriend, Victoria Cobb. “We are very lucky.” 

The fire 

The apartment in Franklin was meant to be a fresh start for the family. They signed the lease on Aug. 3, and three days later, when they were taking a break from moving in belongings, they got the call about the blaze. 

The fire started after they left some grocery bags on their stove and without noticing they accidentally flipped the switch on. The whole building was left uninhabitable.

“When we got that call, our hearts just dropped, completely,” Cobb said in September. “We just kind of shook our heads and didn’t know what to do. When we got there it was kind of surreal, like watching a movie – like, this isn’t real, this isn’t happening.”

They worked with their insurance company to get a two-week stay in a hotel, a month’s fee for a storage unit in Belmont and they were reimbursed for the food, Aucoin’s 12 fleece-lined carpenter pants, video game equipment and photos that were lost in the fire.

But finding new long-term housing was harder than they imagined. Welfare departments in Franklin, Concord and Loudon directed them to 211, a helpline that suggested they reach out to homeless shelters. Cobb said they were hesitant to go to a shelter, where they might be split up, and their dogs not accepted. 

They couldn’t afford most apartments they found. 

Aucoin is on disability, which gives him about $930 a month. Cobb works full time at a clothing store in Tilton, where she gets benefits, but makes less than $30,000 a year.

“You have one incident of bad luck and suddenly, you’re lost,” Cobb said. 

Twin Tamarack Campground

In the campground, they spent a lot of nights getting bitten by black flies, as the nights grew colder in the fall. Their clothes would take three days to air dry on a line and squirrels and other small animals would get into their food. 

Cobb and Aucoin slept in one tent, and Shaye slept in another. They shared a small kitchen area with a table and cooking supplies in between. 

Aucoin, who goes camping often, said they were fairly prepared to be living outside – they knew what equipment they needed, how to make food. But he said it got old very quickly – especially as the weather got colder. 

“I love tenting, I love camping, I always will. But that,” he said, his voice trailing off. “Never again.” 

A new life 

Many of the family’s belongings were damaged in the fire, but Cobb said their new landlord gave them some furniture and old movies that previous tenants left behind. 

Campbell’s favorite so far has been the animated children’s film, The Rescuer’s. 

The family said the new house is working out well. There are two girls next door – 11 and 6 – that Campbell can play with.  

They are hoping to be able to buy a mattress and box spring so Aucoin’s 12-year-old  daughter, Daisy, can move in with them. 

In the meantime, their landlord has said they can paint the space. Aucoin said they are working on picking out a color. 

“We’ve taken this and made it our own. Every day gets a little more homier – the more stuff we do, the more stuff we hang up,” Aucoin said. “It’s home sweet home.” 

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