Short-term housing assistance not always enoughby Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — More and more Twin Cities families are spending a lot of their income on housing, and that's forcing some of them out of their homes.
There's stimulus money designed to help. Millions of dollars came to the state late last year to pull some families back from homelessness, or keep them in their homes.
The idea is to pay the families' rent for one or two months, giving them a one-time chance to pay other bills, build up cash, or look for work.
Ch'Kita Teagues and her two daughters are sitting with their heads bent over a Sudoku board game. The board rests on 16-year-old Marquita Teagues narrow bed. The dim bedroom is a little bigger than a walk-in closet.
It's a scene Ch'Kita Teagues fights every day to make possible.
She's kept her family one step away from homelessness for most of a decade. Their small, two-bedroom apartment in St. Paul costs $725 a month. Teagues budgets down to the dollar to come up with rent.
"The last two [or] three years, it's been real hard for me to find a job," Teagues said.
Teagues grew up a foster kid in Kansas. The only family she knows is a brother who's struggling to pay his own bills. She's now 30 and the mother of two.
Teagues is short on education and has always worked low-wage jobs. She's continually turned down for full-time positions. A temp agency finds her work in factories.
The work slowed late last year and Teagues began to pay rent in installments.
"I panicked because I didn't know what I was going to do next," Teagues said. "Every time I caught up with a month, another month was due."
By November, Teagues owed her landlord more than$2,000 and ended up in court facing eviction.
Teagues went to Ramsey County for help. They sent her to Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, an agency distributing about $1.6 million in stimulus funds. The money will be spent over two years.
The Teagues were the first family Catholic Charities rescued. They helped pay Teagues' back rent and wipe her debt clean. All she had to do was pay rent from then on, which sounds simple.
"So far I've been able to do it, but this month is going to be a little bit short," she said.
On a good week, Teagues works four or five days and earns about $250. That's enough for her to pay rent and spend about $100 on food and $20 on transportation.
"And that's when I have a full week," she said. "Sometimes, like this week, I worked two days. So this check' will be short."
She said she'll be able to pay $500 in rent this month, and she'll ask her landlord to let her pay the rest later. It's a perfect example of how the economy works against people who have fallen behind.
Now, a couple of months help isn't enough.
"Even with the recovery I still think there's going to be a lapse in people who're able to find housing, maintain housing, just with the economic climate," said Sara Wenzel, a case manager for St. Stephen's Human Services in Minneapolis.
The group will distribute $1.3 million in stimulus funds over three years. St. Stephens has kept about 60 families in their homes so far.
Wenzel said some of the families have faced chronic homelessness. For others, it's the first time they can't pay their bills.
"The jobs they'd normally be able to get before are being taken by people that need that second job or just need any job and are willing to take anything at this point," Wenzel said. "That really wears on parents; you can really tell. They don't feel they're doing enough for their children."
Wenzel said the financial situation for poor families will get worse as state programs like general assistance medical care -- a healthcare program for the poor -- are cut.
She hopes the federal government will direct more stimulus money toward housing. Ch'Kita Teagues says either way, she'll do what she must to provide for her children.
"For my kids to make it and be successful like they should be, I have to just keep on going, keep on pushing and moving to whatever next, whatever I can find to do," she said. "I can't give up on my kids."
Teagues said that attitude has paid off. Her daughter, Marquita was just accepted by the University of Minnesota. She wants to be a doctor.
- Morning Edition, 01/29/2010, 6:20 a.m.