Families Without Homes

The work of rebuilding lives

In a report released this year, the Wilder Research Center estimated that 15,759 Minnesotans are homeless or precariously housed. These men, women, and children were living "doubled up" with others, or in shelters, transitional housing, or on the streets. In response to increases in homelessness, St. Stephen's Church of Minneapolis has opened five programs for the homeless over the past twenty years, which in the last decade have focused more on homeless families. Here, Minnesota Parenttakes a look at two of these programs: Job and Employment Readiness, and Housing Services Programs.

 

From Tragedy to the Streets

Bonita and William had to get out of Milwaukee. William's twenty-two-year-old son Monty died in a car crash after a police chase, and the funeral and burial exhausted their savings. Bonita could no longer bear to stay in the apartment where Monty's memory lingered like a ghost. So the couple gathered up a few belongings, and with their ten-year-old daughter, twelve-year-old son, $50, and some food stamps, they got on a bus and moved to Minneapolis. "I bragged to my children what a wonderful place Minneapolis was," said William, who had been to the Cities before for work, removing asbestos insulation from old buildings. "I had no idea moving here was going to be mission impossible."

And three months and four shelters later, it was beginning to seem that way. They had figured it wouldn't take long to get on their feet. While Bonita, an industrial seamstress by trade, is disabled with a spinal lipoma, William has worked for most of his forty-seven years. "We don't have U.D.s [eviction records], we don't have criminal records, we are good people, and we want to give our kids a better life."

Unfortunately for William and Bonita, it's becoming more difficult for low-income families like theirs to find and keep housing in the Twin Cities. According to the Wilder Research Center, the number of homeless and precariously housed persons in Minnesota about doubled between 1991 and 1997. Also in that time, the number of homeless with full-time work has doubled, and the number receiving government benefits like food stamps and Medical Assistance has dropped. These trends indicate that a job is no guarantee of housing anymore. As one homeless father of three puts it, "In Chicago, there was housing but no work--here, there is work but no housing."

 

St. Stephen's Programs

St. Stephen's Church has been in the business of housing the homeless since 1981, when they first opened a shelter for homeless men in the basement of their Whittier Neighborhood Church. Since that time, the demographics of homelessness has shifted considerably in the Twin Cities, and St. Stephen's has opened new programs to meet new needs. In the 1980s, single, adult men comprised the largest group of homeless adults in Minnesota, but today women outnumber men and there are almost as many homeless children as men and women combined. In the metro area there has been a nine-fold increase in homeless children in this decade alone.

Homeless children represent homeless families. St. Stephen's has responded to increases in homelessness among families by creating programs that address the needs of parents. In the 1990s, they started their Employment and Job Readiness Program and their Housing Services Program. According to Sue Roedl, program director and caseworker, most St. Stephen's clients who are parents have two case managers: one for jobs and one for housing.

 

Jobs

"The job training program helps folks stabilize their lives," says Sue. "Steady employment guarantees rent and provides a structure for the children." Janice, who grew up in Minneapolis, is a case in point. "I worked in the laundry at the Radisson, and my boyfriend didn't work. We had two kids when we were first evicted for falling behind on rent. That's when we first went to the shelter. It was always on my shoulders to pay rent and put food on the table."

Thus began a cycle of evictions and shelter stays for Janice and her family. She had five children when Audrey Preston from St. Stephen's Housing Services helped her get furniture and move from a shelter into an apartment. "She asked me why I didn't go to school," said Janice. "I said I was too dumb. Audrey referred me to St. Stephen's Job Service Program where Sue convinced me to take a college-placement test.

"We do a lot of things we don't have to do," says Sue. "We try to take a small case load so we can provide life-skills training and emotional support." St. Stephen's will work with about 120 people this year through their Employment and Job Readiness Program. This helps clients find the schooling and training they need to make a living wage (while, in many cases, raising a family). It also helps clients land jobs, and provides ongoing mediation between employee and employer, if that's needed.

According to Sue, Janice was struggling with five kids, a low-paying job, and an abusive boyfriend who didn't work regularly. "Sue is totally supportive of me," says Janice. "She is a friend. St. Stephen's helps with bills sometimes, and I come to a class for single women once a week. I like having that support. Now I go to Minneapolis Community College, and I'm getting a 4.0 average. When I get my associate's degree, I want to work with battered women in shelters."

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