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Homeless Wait 8 Years for Shot at Life-Changing Housing Lottery

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Rhonda Meyers, her three young children, and her mother ended up on the streets when they couldn't make rent early last year.

First she moved in with some friends, but people were always running in and out and she wanted more peace and stability for her kids. So she toured the shelter circuit, staying at one particularly "nasty" shelter where mice ran in between the mattresses before she was finally transferred to the more family-oriented People Serving People. Meyers, who asked that we not use her real name, has been calling it home for the past three months.

She's got a checklist of all the things you're supposed to do when you find yourself working back-to-back shifts at Wendy's and caring for three kids in a temporary shelter: She's talking to a guidance counselor, keeping on top of low income housing lists, attending job fairs at the library.

It's a long road to a home of her own, but there's hope on the horizon for something that could transform her life overnight.

See also: Number of Homeless Children at Record High Despite Robust Housing Market

The Metropolitan Council's Housing and Redevelopment Authority will reopen its highly anticipated federal housing waiting list for the first time in eight years. Known among homeless and their advocates simply as Section 8, the program sets participants up with landlords who agree to take 30 percent of their income for rent. HRA pays the rest.

Daniel Gumnit, CEO of People Serving People, says although the program is completely life-changing for those who are chosen to enroll, getting there is like winning the lottery. When he talks to people about the day they got Section 8, they'll talk about just breaking down in tears, Gumnit says.

Chances of Section 8 are so slight that the waiting list could be closed for nearly a decade at a time. HRA will only accept bids during a narrow three-day window from February 24-27, and only in the form of online applications. The last time HRA took applications, they received 9,000, but now with social media and online applications HRA manager Terri Smith says they expect to receive more than 60,000.

Desperate numbers reflect a desperate lack of affordable housing in the Twin Cities. Meyers has been on the Section 8 waiting list for four years, but no one ever called to follow up on her application. She thinks maybe with all her moving around to different shelters they lost track of her. She says she will reapply on the wild hope that it could finally turn the corner on homelessness, and for once in her life she won't have to worry.

"I don't ever want my kids to feel like they're trapped, like there are certain things they can do and certain things they can't do," Meyers says. "When they're in their own home they should be able to play when they want to, get along with other kids, spend a night with their grandma. It would be something guaranteed, not somebody saying they'll help us and they won't."

Send news tips to Susan Du.