CANTON, Ohio — Kathryn Gower has faced many challenges in her life. The 71-year-old Canton woman beat breast cancer. She lives with diabetes, high cholesterol and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Recently, doctors discovered a three-inch long abdominal aortic aneurysm, and three weeks ago, she broke her leg falling down steps.
In 2013, Gower's husband, Nick-- a Vietnam veteran-- died from lung and heart complications.
Unable to afford the rent at the couple's trailer home, Gower moved into a rental house on 5th Street NW in Canton.
After living there for seven years, and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Gower was evicted from the house and moved out with only some of her belongings last week. She's now staying at a North Canton hotel, unsure of what her future holds.
"You hear about people, the pandemic affecting their health, their jobs and everything. But it's also affecting people's homes, the homes they live in. And I imagine because of this, the homeless problem is just going to explode," Gower said. "I think it's going to hurt families."
Gower said she began struggling to pay her $575 rent shortly after the pandemic hit Northeast Ohio and one of her sons, who lives with her, lost his job as a cook at a Denny's restaurant. Without her son's paycheck, money was short.
Gower, who relies on social security as her sole source of income, said she paid what she could afford to the landlord, while also putting money towards some medical bills and other living expenses.
"We were sending him payments, a partial payment like half," she said.
Gower said she offered to continue making partial payments, but the landlord refused.
In May, the property owner, Cobra Canton Properties, served Gower and her son with a three-day notice to leave the premises and filed eviction paperwork in Canton Municipal Court.
"It got to the point where, okay, what do we do now?" Gower told News 5.
An eviction hearing was scheduled for August 10, and with many cases on hold during the pandemic, Gower figured she had time to either come up with the money or find another place to live.
But in June, the attorney representing the landlord filed a motion, requesting the hearing be moved up from August to July 13. Judge John Poulous granted the request.
Gower said when she learned of the new court date, she "about fell through the floor."
Canton Municipal Court reopened its eviction docket on July 6.
A week later, Magistrate Jeremy Foltz heard Gower's case and ordered "a writ of restitution of the property", meaning the senior citizen and her son were evicted. They were told to remove their belongings by the following week.
Gower, who who was not represented by an attorney at the hearing, wrote a letter to the court on July 14, asking for more time to vacate the premises.
"COVID-19 set us behind. It took three months for my son to get unemployment. I am a senior citizen and disabled. Is there any way to get more time? I am trying to get some legal help," she wrote. "COVID-19 has hurt a lot of people and it is taking us a while to dig out."
Gower also contacted Community Legal Aid, who tried at the last minute to buy the senior extra time, but the efforts failed.
Relatives then helped Gower rent a moving truck and a pay for a small storage unit for some of her furniture and clothing.
Steven McGarrity, the executive director of Community Legal Aid, said moving the court date up a month earlier during the pandemic was troubling, and made if more difficult for Gower to seek out rental assistance from area agencies.
"When you accelerate it like that, you just put these people's lives at risk," McGarrity said. "It's dangerous for the community to be having people who have nowhere else to go to put them out on the streets. If we don't give people the opportunity to explore those resources and just set the eviction hearing right away, they're not going to have the chance to save their homes."
Foltz said he could not comment specifically on the case, but said he made the decision based on evidence presented in the court and both sides were present. He also stressed the eviction docket is the most difficult part of his job.
"I understand, just like you do, how hard this is for everybody and how difficult it is for everybody," Foltz said. "I have to apply the facts to the law and that's what I base decisions on."
News 5 contacted Gower's former landlord who said Gower had not made a fully payment in five months and also had not paid the water bill during that same time period. The landlord declined to make any further comments about the case.
Both Foltz and McGarrity fear there will be a potential crush of eviction filings coming in the next few months as the pandemic continues and hearings ramp up.
"I think that would be what I think would happen. Certainly, I don't know for sure because I don't have a crystal ball," Foltz said.
"The economic impact of the pandemic means that people will be unable to pay their rent," McGarrity said.
McGarrity added that people should contact Community Legal Aid as soon as they think they might be getting evicted to determine if the agency can provide assistance.
Community Legal Aid also recently launched the Tenant Assistance Project which provides legal help to renters who are facing or fearful of an eviction.
As for Gower, she believes she has enough money to rent a hotel room for a few more weeks, but her social security check won't cover the room and her basic needs over the long run.
While fighting back tears, Gower said she feels for others also facing eviction during the pandemic.
"I can understand they need to have their rent and everything, but can you understand us?"