Sisters Carol Tayburn, 31, left, Vicky Butler, 34, and Christy Butler, 37, at the Salvation Army Homeless Shelter in Lakeland, Fl. The Ledger/Michael Wilson


LAKELAND — They’ve always done everything together, from living as a family to sleeping where a Dumpster was supposed to be located at a nearby restaurant to moving into a homeless shelter.

Through thin and thinner, Christy Butler, 37; Vicky Butler, 34; and Carol Tayburn, 31, always stick together.

During their stay at Talbot House, a homeless shelter at 814 N. Kentucky Ave. just north of downtown Lakeland, they ate together, slept together and did their cleaning chores together. They’re inseparable.

They were known as “The Three Sisters.”

Find one and you’re found them all.

“We never let anyone hurt us or come between us,” said Vicky Butler.

The sisters’ story of rags to nothing isn’t unusual. But the fact that the three siblings are as bonded as something held together by Superglue is.

“If one of them gets married someday, it will be a triple wedding,” said Edward Thomas, 60, a Talbot House resident.

When they arrived at Talbot House in February, the sisters vowed to do something positive and productive with their lives.

Awful and scary

Early this year, the three lived in a home on Central Avenue with their grandparents, mother and father.

But they said their grandfather quit paying the bills, and soon there was no water or electricity. And then no home.

The sisters never worked, saying their job was to care for their grandparents and take care of the house. They had never been homeless.

The sisters stayed in a motel for a while, but what little money they had ran dry. They slept for several weeks in a vacant Dumpster spot in the lot of a closed restaurant on U.S. 98 North. But some days were very cold, others very hot. And then it rained, forcing them to rig a sheet of thin plastic and some boxes into a canopy to try to keep dry.

The sisters agree: It was awful and it was scary.

They wound up in Talbot House, and to them, compared to the streets, the place was The Ritz.

The sisters had an invitation to stay at Talbot House for nine months. When The Ledger interviewed them they were all grateful for the opportunity.

“We want to learn some skills and get GEDs so we can get jobs and become independent,” Tayburn said.

But instead of learning the skills necessary to make it on their own, including how to apply for a job and how to manage money, the sisters all disappeared. They vanished from Talbot House one at a time, all within two weeks of each other, in April.

They each found a man, said Tony Fusaro, executive director of Talbot House. He said the men were either from Talbot House or had recently stayed there.

“The three of them worked hard while they were here and they were very appreciative,” Fusaro said. “We hope they’re making a good life for themselves.”

Homeless always on the run

The area surrounding Talbot House is often as filled with as many homeless people as are lodged in the mission.

David Kerley, 59, often sleeps in vacant lots near Talbot House. He said he “can’t stand to be boxed in.”

Kerley said he and others who sleep outside play a cat-and-mouse game with police. He said police shoo them farther and farther away, even north of Memorial Boulevard.

Then they start over near Talbot House and the game begins anew.

It’s not so bad sleeping outside, Kerley said. “Thank God for Walgreens.”

The homeless count this year shows a dip in the homeless population of Polk County, down to 464 people this year compared to 536 last year and 510 in 2013, according to the Homeless Coalition of Polk County.

Anthony Whippleleatherwood, a technical specialist for the homeless coalition, said volunteers do a good job of counting, but the count is not exact science. He said some homeless people live deep in the woods and others turn and run when they see the counters coming.