Robert and Monique Dock are employed but unable to find an apartment they can afford to rent.

Robert and Monique Dock are employed but unable to find an apartment they can afford to rent.

Allison Frost/OPB

What do we mean when we talk about achieving the “American Dream”? Who is we? And is the Dream still relevant today? We’re exploring all those questions and more with Oregonians leading up to the November 2016 election. We’re gathering survey responses and talking with people on Think Out Loud to get a variety of perspectives on the “American Dream.”

Robert Dock and his wife, Monique, moved to Portland just over a year ago. They lived in Phoenix and enjoyed a very comfortable life there. 

“We’ve owned two houses in our lives,” Robert said. “And we had a nice beautiful, three bedrooms, with an office, and a shop in the back. Just a beautiful house, with a pool, and everything. So we had the American Dream, then.”

Visions Of Portland

In the eight years leading up to their move, the Docks visited Portland frequently (one of their relatives worked for an airline). They told Think Out Loud that they fell in love with everything about the city: the culture, the weather, the restaurants and the walkable neighborhoods. Given the metro area’s continued growth and the recent housing spike, it seems safe to say the Docks were not alone.

But not long after the move, the couple fell on hard times. They were both laid off. Monique got another full time job, but then they were evicted without warning.

“I was on my way to work,” Monique said, “and I just broke down and cried. It was on the front door. And I had to call my work, and kind of tell them I wasn’t feeling well, and I just couldn’t go into work. They gave us five days. Five days to move. And just the two of us to move everything out of that apartment in five days.” Mormon missionaries helped them move their things into a storage unit, she said.

They had cashed out Robert’s 401K for the move, and there was nothing left. Never “in a million years” did she imagine she would ever be homeless. “It’s been the worst,” she said.

The Promise Of America

Monique was born in Sidney, Australia, and moved with her mother and sister to Salt Lake City in 1975 when she was 13. There was an absolute certainty life would be better in the United States. Then, just two years after the move, her mother died of cancer.

“I’ve been on my own since I was 15,” Monique said.

Robert was born in the U.S., but his parents immigrated from Belgium.

“They came in 1948, after the war. My father was a Belgian officer,” he said. “They immigrated here — immigrated to Salt Lake. I grew up there, total middle class suburbia. Holiday, Utah.”

The Docks are now sleeping in their car with their cat, Camie. They get a motel when they feel they can, but the motel is expensive. Even with Monique’s full-time job, it’s hard to save anything for a deposit and initial move in costs. And with an eviction on their rental history, their options are limited. Despite their challenges, Robert and Monique don’t regret coming to Oregon. They’re not moving back to Arizona.

“We wanted to be here. You know, share that experience and that culture. And you know, just be close to everything,” says Robert. “That was our new American Dream, and now our dream is just to be able to get off the street and get an apartment.”

Monique sums it up for the two of them:

“We love Portland. That’s why we’re here.”