Seeking Shelter, Rebuilding Lives
Crystal Bartz and her three children, Temperance (age 6), DaCorey, (age 4) and Darius (7 months), have been situated in transitional housing through the Salvation Army for two months—a place they are relieved to be even if it is only temporary.
When Crystal was four months pregnant with Darius, she encountered health problems that required her to be on strict bed rest, which meant she couldn’t work. A domestic dispute and subsequent breakup left Crystal and her children without a home.
“We were fine for so long, and then the rug was pulled out from beneath us,” explains Crystal. “The thing you worry most about is where we’re going to sleep tonight. It gets to where you don’t even care how you’ll eat. You really only think about where you’ll sleep. I thought I would have to separate the kids—one can sleep at this house, another there, and I’ll just sleep in the car.”
Though homelessness is not always clearly visible in Rochester, it certainly exists. People double up in houses, sleep in cars, on the heat vents in alleys, in alcoves in buildings or underneath bridges, according to the Salvation Army which provides many resources for the homeless: food and clothing programs, social rehabilitation programs, medical options and housing assistance and services.
“Many of the women who show up here are single women, with children, who are fleeing domestic violence and literally have nothing,” says Cindy Norgard, Director of Social Services at Salvation Army. “We try to make sure people have all the resources they need, according to eligibility assessments they must take when they come to us,” explains Cindy. “But the biggest issue is finding decent, affordable housing.”
Crystal and her family applied for the Transitional Housing Program, which provides families a place to live for up to 24 months. During that time they are connected with resources that help them regain their self-esteem and confidence and reestablish themselves. But the program is often full and takes time to process applications.
“I thought it was impossible, but then one day, Margo [Margo Njguna, a social worker with the Salvation Army’s Transitional Living & Counseling program] called me. I started to bawl,” remembers Crystal. “There was a time I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t envision a future. But Margo saved us. We’re finally coming back together.”
Crystal’s transitional home is simple but comfortable, and her relationship with Margo is strong and trusting. She feeds Darius and explains what she sees for her future: “I’m definitely going to go back to work, take the budgeting class and clear up my credit. I want to buy a house so that my kids have a place to call home. I know it will be a slow process, but it will work. It makes such a difference to know that you’re not alone, and that you’re not being judged.”
Children At Risk
Nearly half (46 percent) of Minnesota’s 10,214 homeless people are youth and children ages 21 and younger, according to a 2012 survey (www.wilder.org/Wilder-Research/Research-Areas/Homelessness/Pages/default.aspx). The Rochester Public School system currently tracks 350 homeless children within elementary, middle and high schools in the district.
As the Students in Transition (SIT) Coordinator for the Rochester Public Schools, Melissa Brandt’s job is to identify homeless and at-risk homeless youth enrolled in the Rochester Public School district and connect them with resources to keep them consistently enrolled and able to go to school.
“Every time a child has to switch schools, they lose four to six months of curriculum. As you can imagine, if a child is switching schools multiple times within a year, they can fall considerably behind,” explains Melissa. “Homelessness, more than poverty, is the biggest academic deterrent.”
A key factor for Melissa is to help the children with transportation to and from school—from public transportation vouchers to gas vouchers that temporarily ease some of the financial burden on the family.
In the two years that Melissa’s position has existed with the district, she has witnessed huge strides to raise awareness, such as food shelf and backpack programs in the schools and the Garden Fair event held this past June to benefit homeless youth in the Rochester School District.
“One of the great things about my position is that it is not my responsibility to judge. My primary responsibility is to serve kids and get them to school,” explains Melissa. “I find the need and connect them with resources. These families are absolutely seeking help, and they are so grateful when they find it.”
Shelters and Support in Rochester
Women’s Shelter, Inc. provides services and housing for women and children of domestic
violence. Contact: PO Box 457, Rochester, MN 55903; 507-285-1010 (crisis line), 507-285-1938 (business line)
Dorothy Day Hospitality House, a 23-bed shelter, primarily serves single adults on a first-come-first-serve basis up to 14 days at a time. Contact: 703 1st St. SW, Rochester; 507-282-5172; firstname.lastname@example.org (email)
Interfaith Hospitality Network is a network of 49 area faith communities which helps homeless families with children under the age of 16 in times of crisis by providing food, shelter and security. Contact: 811 7th Street NW, Rochester; 507-281-3122 or visit ihn-greater-rochester.org.
Rochester LINK Program (Living Independently with Knowledge) strives to transition at-risk and homeless youth ages 16-21 into independent adults by providing case management services, lifeskills groups, peer support groups and a transitional housing program for those who are eligible. Contact: 816 South Broadway, Rochester; 507-258-4108 or visit www.lssmn.org/LINK
United Way provides a referral service for information about health and human services statewide, including housing and transportation. Dial the service by calling 211 or 1-800-543-7709 or 1-800-861-7364 (TTY line for hearing impaired). Visit uwolmsted.org.
Family Support and Assistance at 507-328-6500
The Salvation Army provides resources and information regarding other Homeless Community Network Programs, as well as free lunches every day, dinner twice a week and a food shelf program through Channel One. Visit salvationarmynorth.org.
How can you help? Volunteers and donations are the lifeblood of these organizations; they’d greatly appreciate any assistance you can provide.