CHEYENNE – A Laramie County family is now on the brink of homelessness more than a year after a tornado leveled their home.
Chad, Jack and Heather Gifford, alongside their two Siberian huskies, Bo and River, lost nearly everything when an EF-2 tornado struck eight northwest Laramie County residences in May 2018.
Although most of their neighbors have rebuilt, the Gifford family is still living in a Cheyenne hotel, making mortgage payments on a “hole in the ground.”
Worse, their insurance company didn’t extend any additional living expenses, so, within a month, they’ll be couch-surfing. They’re asking anyone with a spare room or a vacant trailer home to help.
“We can’t pay full rent because we still have to pay our mortgage,” said Chad Gifford, a catastrophe claims adjuster by profession. “We’re not too picky; we just need something dog-friendly to fit all three of us, a bed and a bathroom.”
Heather Gifford said they’re willing to chip in for groceries, housework and anything else their host might need.
An insurance company provided the Giffords with a temporary three-bedroom trailer house to live in, but it was laced with visible mold and infested with bees.
“The trailer finally left last week,” Chad Gifford said. “We never got to live in it because they never cleaned it.”
Since then, they’ve been caught in a series of bureaucratic catch-22s.
Construction was delayed, in part, because the property is zoned for single homes only. County officials wouldn’t permit them to start reconstruction until the trailer was removed, but the insurance company let the vacant trailer sit for months.
They still can’t break ground, though, because insurance money is tied up in a legal battle with a former contractor. Until that’s resolved, they’re at a standstill.
This could leave them displaced for at least another year.
“The bank won’t loan us any money for construction because we have a mortgage,” Chad Gifford said. “We’re stuck, and it seems like we’re on our own.”
After launching a GoFundMe page to stay afloat, the community’s response has been underwhelming.
“Our house was insured for $200,000, but it’s going to cost probably closer to $350,000 after all of this is done,” Chad Gifford said. This means, after everything, they’ll likely have to raise more than $100,000 for reconstruction.
They were rejected for both FEMA and state assistance because the rural neighborhood was never declared a disaster area.
Chad Gifford and his wife, Heather, bought the home in 2016 after moving from Oklahoma. They brought Chad’s father, Jack, up after a series of medical emergencies. Six months after the disaster, Jack Gifford was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He endured months of radiation treatment while living at the hotel.
He was declared cancer-free last month.
“For the second time in two years, I’ve beat cancer,” he said. “It beat me down something fierce, though. The doctor says it’s going to take as much as five years to get my stamina back because part of the treatment required taking testosterone out of my body.”
But the family feels left behind by elected officials and those whose job it is to assist during natural disasters.
“It seems like we’ve done everything right,” Chad Gifford said. “I pay my taxes, hold a job, do everything I can to help my friends and neighbors out. I try to be a good person, so why hasn’t all of this come together? It’s a lot of emotional stress because I want to be a provider for my family, and I feel like I’m letting them down.”
The family’s GoFundMe page can be found at www.gofundme.com/gifford-family-disater-relief-fund.