Homeless, not hopeless

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 25, 1999

With having no place to sleep at night but her car and being separated from her fiance and the children she has grown to love as her own, one might expect Angie to give up hope.

Saturday, September 25, 1999

With having no place to sleep at night but her car and being separated from her fiance and the children she has grown to love as her own, one might expect Angie to give up hope.

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While Angie, who asked that her real identity be concealed, admits there were times when things became almost unbearable, she knew deep down that her life would one day turn around.

And for a woman who has been homeless for the past five months, that day has finally come.

&uot;The last four months, I’ve just been crying, trying to figure out what I’m going to do,&uot; she said. &uot;But I never lost faith. I never lost hope.&uot;

After being without a permanent home for five months, and even living in her car with her fiance Bill, also not his real name, Angie has finally found a home.

&uot;I ran into this man that (Bill) used to work for. I knew he rented stuff and I just started begging him for anything he had open – anything,&uot; Angie said.

Bill’s former boss didn’t have any apartments available, at least not anything he thought was livable. But Angie persisted and finally the man brought her to an apartment that hadn’t been occupied for years.

&uot;No one had lived there for years and years and years. There were huge holes in the walls and the place was so dirty,&uot; Angie said. &uot;It’s going to be a lot of work, but at least we’ll all be together.&uot;

Rough times

Angie, who’s been in Albert Lea for almost a year now, moved here from the New England area to be closer to her stepmother and six sisters.

Angie spent a fair share of the last five months in transition, including a month of sleeping their Chevy Cavalier.

Too proud to continue taking advantage of their friends’ hospitality and too proud to tell her stepmother, Angie said the couple lived in their Chevy Cavalier.

While Angie and Bill went back and forth from one place to another and slept in the car, Bill’s two sons stayed with his parents while his daughter stayed with Angie and her stepmother.

Angie and Bill lived in their car for almost a month before her stepmother found out.

&uot;My mom told me I could live with her if I gave her $100 every two weeks. She wasn’t asking for rent but wanted me to save up for my own place,&uot; Angie said.

The money her stepmother had her save quickly dwindled from buying food for herself and Bill’s three children, in addition to school supplies and clothing.

Growing up poor herself, Angie wanted the children to have the things they needed, and didn’t want them to be teased at school. Waiting for sales, she was able to get them new clothes and school supplies without borrowing too much money from one of her sisters.

&uot;They needed so much. They’re just kids. They should have all that stuff. They shouldn’t have to go to school and be made fun of,&uot; she said.

But Angie’s biggest struggle remained the fact that she was homeless. A guest in her stepmother’s home, Angie knew her presence, along with Bill’s daughter, was putting a financial strain on the household.

&uot;I’ve been looking everywhere. I been to every apartment, every trailer park. I been asking everyone I know,&uot; she said.

More frustrations

Everywhere she went, she was told no – for a variety of reasons. Most were legitimate, but others made her wonder.

&uot;I went to this one trailer park, and I won’t mention names, but they told me that they thought they would have an opening soon. Then as soon as [Bill] walked into the office, they said they didn’t,&uot; Angie said.

Angie said she was getting along well with the owners, until Bill, a Hispanic, appeared. Then Angie said the owners became very rude. Their behavior, and the fact that there are very few Hispanics in the trailer park, led her to believe their sudden change of heart was racially motivated.

Even if she had been able to find a rental, money continued to be a problem. Angie had quit her job a month ago to take care of the kids. And Bill’s paycheck from his work on the production line is merely enough to cover bills. With virtually nothing saved up, Angie knew they would have to turn to someone for help.

She went to the Community Action Agency hoping they would be able to locate a place.

Although the agency had the funds to help Angie with start up costs, they simply couldn’t help her find a home.

Angie eventually found a place on her own. Now the family of five that has been living in three separate places for five months will be together again.

The homeless intervention funds provided Angie with the first month’s rent. Since she’s doing most of the renovation of the apartment herself, she didn’t have to pay a deposit.

That’s where Angie was really lucky, she admits. Many landlords are now asking for first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit. That can add up to over $1,000 very quickly. And for families living paycheck to paycheck, it’s often difficult to save that much.

The two-year grant that provides $18,000 a year for families must be used to secure permanent housing, officials from CAA said.

A familiar story

Linda Lares of the Community Action Agency, says Angie’s plight is unfortunately common. Even Angie knows of several people her own age who sleep in their cars because they have nowhere to turn.

&uot;There are programs in place to help people financially, but there are no places available,&uot; Lares said.

Those who don’t sleep in their cars try to find shelter with friends, families and even strangers.

&uot;But that puts other people’s housing in jeopardy,&uot; Lares said. If the tenant signed a lease that stated the number of people who can live in the rental unit, allowing more people to stay there, even short term, violates that lease. The tenant could be evicted.

&uot;It’s tough because then we have that many more people who are homeless,&uot; Lares said.

Despite that, Colette Turcotte, also of Community Action, said she recently heard of four families living together – 22 people in a three bedroom house.

It’s possible that the landlord could evict the tenant, sending all 22 of those people on the street, Turcotte said.

They would join dozens others in the plight of homelessness.

&uot;Anyone who doesn’t believe we have homeless people in Freeborn County needs to come and visit us,&uot; Lares said.

&uot;The stereotype is what they see on TV, people living on the streets. We don’t have that type of homeless in Minnesota,&uot; Lares said. Most of the homeless she sees are working families with children who move from one friend’s home for an evening to another. Others just sleep in their cars.

In just the first three days of last week, Lares said 12 families came to her looking for a home. Three of those were single men, the others were families with children.

&uot;They’re working people. And if they don’t find a home, they will leave,&uot; Lares said, adding that it hurts the whole community when families leave.

&uot;We all lose. We lose workers that are desperately needed. We lose what the family could contribute to the community,&uot; Lares said.

With efforts being made to attract able workers to the community, the lack of housing drives away workers who are already here.

&uot;If we help these families, we help ourselves,&uot; Lares said.