Can we talk about homelessness? Over the past 12 months I have been immersed in this issue from an array of different angles. In the course of my job in Corporate Security, I have been involved in dozens and dozens of community/business meetings around the homeless issue in St Paul, MN. My co-workers and I work extensively with the Dorothy Day Homeless Shelter/Higher Ground to figure out how we can help combat the issue of homelessness in the downtown area AND help ensure St Paul is a safe place for corporate employees. It is such a multi-faceted problem that requires a number of initiatives on the part of many different entities. See, the homeless issue is a math problem. There is a major gap between affordable housing and a livable wage with benefits and the math hasn't been adding up for years. Imagine finally getting a job, securing stable housing, and then getting a small raise which now means you get no housing assistance – between that blow and your benefits costs, you now cannot afford rent. So, you’re back on the streets, showering at the shelter and getting to work via the bus line. You can never get ahead.
For Christmas last December, the Wagner family adopted a single mother and 4 children from St Paul who had been homeless for 2 years (in shelters and in her car that she has since sold) and had finally found stable housing for the past several months. I developed a real friendship with this mom; I visited her after Christmas, I pledged to be a listening ear when life got so tough and she needed support, I sat on her living room floor and held her hands as she cried and told me her life story, opening up about a lifetime of physical and sexual abuse, and about how she was finally in a decent place to focus on providing for her children what she was never given – real love and understanding and support from a parent. She was honest with me about her struggles as a single mom who, some days, just wanted to give up. But she was also honest about all of the good and selfless things she was doing for her children, giving all and taking nothing for herself.
And then, things changed when a few weeks ago, the order of protection she had against her ex for beating her had expired after 2 years. And while she was shopping for groceries, she spotted him. She hid until she thought he had left, but he had followed her. He now knows where she and the kids are living, he drives around letting her know he is watching her and fear has overcome her and her children who are afraid to sit at the bus stops. She needs to move into a new place that has cameras and true security/access control, and Section 8 will continue to help her pay for the new apartment but she has to pay for the security deposit and first month’s rent. The problem is, not only does she have little skills for the workforce, but her youngest child is 3; she stays home with him and ensures her other 3 kids safely get to and from school and to other activities like juvenile counseling. She has no car so they are all at the mercy of the public transportation system. She has severe PTSD and depression, no degree, and is just trying to push her children to stay in school and have a future that she never had the chance to have.
My heart breaks for this woman (who shall remain nameless due to the violence issues with her ex); over the past few weeks she has spent her days riding the bus to meet with counselors and resource centers, calling and emailing, trying to figure out how to come up with the remaining $1200 to move into a secure location where her ex will not find her. She is not lazy. The odds are all stacked against her and have been her entire life. She has been denied emergency assistance because she is not getting evicted – they do not care that this is a family violence issue. Quite honestly, there is little funding to help the many people that need it. She is currently working on extending the order of protection and has a plan to remain "unfindable" in the future.
Today, I attended a meeting regarding the homeless shelters in St Paul and here are some stats:
*The total number of homeless (unsheltered) increased 22% from 2016-2017 – that is a SIGNIFICANT uptick in 1 year especially since other counties in MN saw a flatline or decrease.
*In June 2017, 88 unsheltered homeless were surveyed:
1. 51% had been homeless for 2 years or less (so, fairly new to being homeless and not life-long homeless)
2. 80% were homeless by choice or because of conditions and 20% were restricted from shelters
3. Of those 80%, barriers to housing include economic (no money and no credit), criminal background themselves, or criminal background of their partners that could not get on the lease, so they choose to be homeless with the partner.
This winter, the St Paul Winter Safe Space developed to address the long cold winter and the rise in the homeless population in the skyway system, housed 561 UNIQUE individuals since December 1st – it only has 50 beds and seeks to be an emergency housing place where police officers and metro transit can refer folks who are identified as having no place to go that night.
I also learned today that overwhelmingly, the strategy for “solving” homelessness is that you GET THEM HOUSING FIRST, then you address the underlying issues that led to them being homeless.
I’m most afraid right now that my friend and her children will return to the streets/shelter in two weeks if we cannot find the money to keep a roof over their head. And then those kids will not get to school every day, and they will not get to their counseling appointments, and their mother will be so sad, stressed, and depressed and feel like a failure and will not be able to effectively parent and care for those children.
Will you help me secure a roof over their head, the single most important thing we can do for them? Do you have $5 you can spare? Can you pray for a miracle? Many of you helped provide a Christmas for this family, and I’m going out on a major limb and asking for help once again for them.
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