NMF has been working with a coalition of organizations that serve those who are facing poverty and homelessness since October 2018. This group has come together to collaborate on an effort to provide more shelter and services to those who may otherwise be stuck outside to brave this extremely cold Minnesota winter. To learn more about that effort, click here.
The following story is a firsthand account from a woman whose life seemed picture perfect, until her marriage took an unfortunate turn.
We thank Sara for being brave and sharing her experience with our community. Sara’s situation is not uncommon, and a great example of how homelessness can affect anyone at any time, without warning. We hope this story can begin to change the narrative around those who experience homelessness.
I would like to start by saying I never considered that I would end up in a homeless situation in my life.
I have always been a hard worker, and have excelled in everything I’ve done. I was an honor student, I have been a teacher, and worked as a manager for different companies. About six years ago, I began to stay home with my children. I had three babies and was homeschooling one. Our household income was between $70-$100,000 per year. We had the picture perfect life. He worked. I was home. We were foster/adoptive parents. We attended church weekly. Neither of us smoked, drank or gambled. We owned a home with a pool.
In May 2016, I discovered he was having an affair, but he said he wanted to remain married. We spent money on therapy, rehab, weekends away, and eventually, in December 2017, a psychiatrist. At that time we discovered that we had been battling undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder. During that time, he was fired, I moved out, I went back to teaching by September 2017, and we decided to try to repair our family, again in February 2018.
This past summer (July 2018), I realized that I needed to leave and take the kids with me. I asked my principal to be released from my contract, and I loaded up the kids and drove to Minnesota, where my family was. I arrived in Bemidji with nowhere to live, no income, four kids, and a whole lot of loose ends.
I immediately went to DHS to ask for help, as well as The Northwoods Battered Women’s Shelter. I got my name on a list for Section 8 Scattered Sites. Since my youngest three children are adopted, I receive subsidy for them, if I didn’t have that, I would have sunk much quicker.
And then came the waiting game. I was waiting for housing, but needed to put my kids in school somewhere. I chose Bemidji because my kids with special needs don’t do well with change, and we had already been through plenty of change. I thought I would land in Bemidji with a Scattered Sites home, but we ended up living with my parents who lived 45 minutes from Bemidji.
I was offered a reduced rate at the Holiday Inn Express because I was on the Section 8 waiting list and a worker vetted me. The kids and I began moving into the hotel on Sunday evenings and back out on Friday mornings, then we’d drive to my parents for the weekend, every weekend.
The section 8 Scattered Site home was to be 30% of my income, and all utilities were my responsibility. Normally, I would think that’s a good deal, but, I had decided to go back to school. I have a teaching degree, but, teaching Elementary while raising kids with special needs is extremely difficult, especially alone. While filling out my FAFSA, I discovered that I could live on campus, because BSU provides housing for single parents. I applied, and was accepted. We moved in the first weekend of November 2018. I got a call telling me that there might be a Scattered Sites House “in a couple weeks”, on November 20.
Prior to this experience, I believed that most people struggling with homelessness have made a string of bad choices, and this was their consequence. You could make the argument that I did, in attempting to save my marriage repeatedly, dig myself deeper into debt and removed my ability to have anything to fall back on. However, now, I have come to discover that, often, the true face of homelessness is a woman raising children and trying her hardest to do what’s best for them. Eventually, I might get child support, but I needed a place to live now.
I tried to substitute teach, but living in a hotel, I had to drive kids to and from school, and there was little opportunity in the hours that I was available. I was removed from the food stamps account, because I’m an adult and I had been on for longer than 90 days. Also, what I was paying at the hotel did not count as housing costs. But when my parents gifted me a week’s stay, it counted as income and my assistance was reduced.
I spent a large deal of time feeling like I was banging my head against a wall. I am so incredibly grateful that BSU has housing that we were able to get into before I actually began my classes. But I wonder about the other moms and kids, where are they staying? What are they doing? It feels like the deck is stacked against you in these cases.
Additionally, no one gives consideration for how our bodies physically react to these situations. During our months at the hotel, my children missed more school due to illness than ever before, I became sick more frequently, and I was exhausted. I was also under pressure to fill out a weekly time card with my daily activities to make sure that I spent enough hours doing “acceptable activities” in order to keep my financial assistance. My therapist said my physical ailments were a result of stress.
I hope my experience can help others know that they are not alone. Homelessness can happen to anyone, even a stay at home mom and wife who checked all the boxes, and believed she did everything right to make a good life for herself and her children. You never know when your life might be flipped upside down.