Saint Paul Mother Finds Stability After Experiencing Homelessness: I Am Feeling Awesome These Days
What does it take to live a stable life? For Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood resident Barbara Lewis, the answer has three parts: “Home, kids and career – if you have those three things and you’re happy with them, then everything goes smooth,” she says.
By Barbara’s definition, her life is stable these days. She recently celebrated one year as a permanent, full-time employee working in billing and insurance for a laboratory. Her 10-year-old daughter, Essence, is thriving in the fifth grade, and together they live in a sunny two-bedroom apartment.
Eighteen months ago, Barbara was trying to figure out how to move forward after she and her daughter began living in a shelter for the second time. “I was just thinking that I’ve got to have the patience,” Barbara recalls. Through her persistence and support from the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood Rental Assistance Program, Barbara and her daughter regained stability.
Rebuilding Her Life
Barbara and her daughter first experienced homelessness in 2016, when Barbara lost her job and was no longer able to afford their home. They lived in a shelter until they were able to afford an apartment in Saint Paul, but then had to leave their apartment due to an unsafe situation. They moved into a shelter in Saint Paul for women who have experienced domestic violence, and Barbara began rebuilding her life a second time.
While living in the shelter, Barbara and her daughter were accepted into the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood Rental Assistance Program, a pilot program that provided rental assistance and other support to families in the Promise Neighborhood who are experiencing homelessness or have moved frequently. The program is a partnership of the Promise Neighborhood, Wilder and other organizations. The pilot, which is winding down, served 91 families.
Through the rental assistance program, Barbara worked with Pam James, housing navigator manager at the Cultural Wellness Center, and others to find housing and address other needs in her life. She found temporary work so that she could repay her former landlord. “From then on, I just didn’t want to be in the same situation,” Barbara says.
From a Shelter to a 2-Bedroom Apartment
A primary goal of the pilot was to ensure that children whose families were moving frequently or experiencing homelessness were able to attend school regularly. Barbara says she made sure her daughter, Essence, attended school regularly even while they were living in the shelter, and that Essence continued participating in extracurricular activities such as robotics and dance through the Boys & Girls Club. Because Barbara did not have a car during this time, she and her daughter would leave the shelter at 5:30 a.m. every weekday so that they could take the bus to a before-school program and Barbara could make it to work by 8:00 a.m.
By July 2017, Barbara had repaid her landlord and was ready to look for her own place. Barbara brought Essence to tour potential apartments. “I wanted her to feel comfortable, too,” she says. In September 2017, Barbara and Essence found a two-bedroom apartment that they liked. The rental assistance program covered 70 percent of their rent.
Beyond Rental Assistance: Self-Care and Stress Relief
In addition to rental assistance, the program also provided Barbara with the opportunity to complete a course on self-care through the Cultural Wellness Center. “The Cultural Wellness Center helped me realize where my negative energy was,” she says. Inspired by the course, she ended an unhealthy relationship and continued to focus on her goal of living a stable life.
During her time in the program, Barbara was able to buy a car, which eased her transportation difficulties. She was also able to save some money to help with future needs. The rental assistance program helped lift some of the stress that comes with homelessness. “I was able to focus on doing my job at work, and focus on being a parent when I’m with my daughter,” she says.
Families were eligible to take part in the program for up to 24 months, but Barbara exited after 16 months because she no longer needed the assistance. She obtained a permanent position at her company and has since been promoted. She rekindled her relationship with Essence’s father, and she’s now focused on her next goal: purchasing her own home. “I am feeling awesome these days,” Barbara says.