Things like showy overspending or reports of raucous partying sometimes precede the eviction of tenants from their homes. Indeed, it’s all too easy to imagine how these stories unfold, as even the rich and famous sometimes suffer the indignity of being ejected from their properties. However, this story is different – and it’s heartbreaking for a whole range of reasons.
After all, we rarely hear about the lives of everyday Americans who lose their homes for reasons that are as sad as they are simple. Clifford and Gary Koekoek’s story, though, is a prime example of homeowners’ good intentions going awry.
Back in 2007, the now-84-year-old twins decided to take out a loan. This was because the roof of their shared Fair Oaks, California, house – a property they purchased from their mother – needed repair, and cash from the bank would cover the costs.
Gary and Clifford found the payments on the repairs to be manageable, too – at least, at first they did. “We took a loan thinking we had a conventional loan,” Gary told FOX 40 Sacramento.
But he and Clifford soon realized that what they had signed for wasn’t a conventional loan at all. In fact, this was an adjustable rate loan, and that meant that the cost of their payments went up as time went on.
And as the price tag on those monthly instalments steadily increased, the brothers found themselves unable to pay the bills. Legal problems consequently led the bank to foreclose on the property in October 2016, leaving the two men homeless.
After that, the twins began sleeping in their car and spending their days walking around Orangevale, California. “Sometimes, we don’t eat,” Gary told FOX 40. Still, the duo refused to beg for spare change. “No, never will. I’d rather die,” Clifford told Sacramento’s ABC 10.
Instead, Gary spent the months leading up to July 2017 poring over deed records at the Sacramento Public Library. He was hoping to find a loophole in their loan or eviction that would get him and his brother back into their home, which had been in the Koekoek family since 1984.
Of course, it would be a longshot for Gary to find a mistake in a deed’s legalese. But he and Clifford did have one stroke of good luck: Aaron Hoerner had noticed the two brothers sleeping in their car, rather than indoors.
“They were just living in their car in front of Raley’s [a grocery store chain],” Hoerner told FOX 40. Hoerner knew a bit about the brothers’ history, but he found out a little more – and doing so taught him an important lesson about homelessness.
“It’s easy to walk by and not look at their situation,” he said in the same interview. “But if you stop to talk to somebody, everybody has a story.” And the story he found out about the 84-year-olds was one nobody could have imagined.
Indeed, Gary and Clifford Koekoek have seen their world change more in 84 years than most people could fathom. For instance, the pair grew up in Belgium, though their childhood was put on hold as soon as World War II broke out.
Their family then moved to the Netherlands, but life wasn’t much easier there. “All our lives, we’ve seen people killed, tortured… seen loved ones being taken away to concentration camps by the Nazis,” Clifford told ABC 10.
Before the war ended, the family moved halfway across the world to Indonesia, and then onwards to Brazil. Finally, they found their way to the United States – but they didn’t find a peaceful existence there, either.
Instead, the twins were shipped out to fight in the Vietnam War, where they survived being bombed. They even joked about their experiences in the war together. “He kicked me out, said, ‘See if it’s safe. If not, I’ll pull you back in,’” Clifford recalled to ABC 10.
And yet the brothers have said the loss of their home is worse than anything they experienced under the Nazis or in the jungles of Vietnam. “I’d rather go back to the war and get shot at, than this crap,” Gary admitted to FOX 40.
Astounded by this story – especially by the fact that the Koekoek twins were war veterans without a penny to their names – Hoerner knew he had to do something. He had a feeling the local community would want to contribute, too.
So he started an online fundraiser in Gary and Clifford’s names, telling their incredible story of survival, triumph and loss. He shared everything with the hope of raising $25,000, so that the two could find a new home.
And their story seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people. In a matter of days, in fact, Hoerner’s GoFundMe page had received donations from 2,846 people and earned almost five times its initial goal, with $121,528 sent in to help the duo. The response was so overwhelming that Hoerner was forced to suspend the campaign.
In an update posted on the GoFundMe page, he told donors that he and a lawyer would set up a trust for the brothers, and the two would receive housing from the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Most importantly, though, their experience is a lesson, according to Hoerner. He told ABC 10, “When you see people that are homeless, remember: everyone has a story.”