Homeless mother shares struggle of getting on her feet

Des Moines Register Article

 

 

Des Moines' hidden homeless recount hardships

Families with no place to call their own fight an invisible battle to survive

 

Sabrina Porter, a 20-year-old mother of two, hasn't had a permanent address since aging out of foster care two years ago.

 

Rod Klampe II, his girlfriend and their six children lost their home in September when the 22-year-old's wages no longer covered the rent.

 

Both Iowans are part of Des Moines' population of homeless families, a group whose struggles often remain invisible.

 

It's difficult to track the number of parents who lack secure housing for their children, but social service workers say high turn-away rates at local shelters indicate the economic downturn has hit families hard. Limited resources to assist homeless parents further compound the problem.

 

Of the roughly 900 shelter beds available for Des Moines' homeless, fewer than 100 are earmarked for families.

 

The issue came to the forefront last week, when Danae Haynes, 23, of Des Moines was arrested and charged with child endangerment for caring for her 10-month-old child inside an unheated garage.

 

Haynes had been without a home for months and told The Des Moines Register that the only shelter she found would have required her to live separately from her child — something that she refused to do. Ultimately, however, her precarious housing situation caused officials to remove Haynes' child from her care.

 

Upon Haynes' arrest, her child was sent to Youth Emergency Services & Shelter in Des Moines.

 

Haynes' story shines a light on the scant housing available to homeless families.

New Directions Shelter, a 36-bed facility that serves women and children in Des Moines, saw requests for rooms increase by more than 300 percent from 2009 to 2012, said Tim Shanahan, executive director of Hawthorn Hill, the organization that oversees the shelter. From May to September, New Directions turned away 497 families looking for a place to stay.

 

At St. Joseph's Emergency Family Shelter, a 28-bed facility that accommodates two-parent households in Des Moines, 148 families who requested help in September were not served because of space constraints.

 

Many homeless families often end up bouncing from couch to couch, Shanahan said. Some live in cars or at campgrounds.

 

"They are not out on the streets; they're not downtown panhandling for money," Shanahan said. "They are the hidden homeless."

 

On a national level, families comprise roughly a third of the total homeless population.

Many, however, are hesitant to seek out services, especially if they cannot find room at a shelter, said Julie Eberbach, program director at the Iowa Institute of Community Alliances, which tracks homelessness in the state.

 

"Families are very reluctant to reveal themselves because homelessness becomes a status of instability and children can be removed from the home," she said.

Twelve percent of homeless children have been placed in foster care, compared to 1 percent of all children, according to research by the Maryland-based National Center on Family Homelessness.

 

Time in shelters limited because of high demand

Homelessness separated Porter, a Chicago native, from her 3-year-old son, Jayceon.

The boy is living with his father in Illinois while Porter is staying with her 9-month-old daughter, Xaria, at New Directions Shelter.

 

Porter landed a part-time job Monday at a local department store. With financial help from a former foster mother, she hopes to scrape together money for a Des Moines apartment.

Once she has a place of her own, Porter said her son and boyfriend plan to join her in Iowa. She's pregnant with twins.

 

"I think people don't realize just how frustrating, how depressing it can be to want something better, to see it, but to also see all those obstacles," said Porter, a high school dropout whose education level limits her employment opportunities.

 

Des Moines' emergency family shelters limit to 30 to 90 days the time families can stay due to high demand.

 

The increased requests for help fall in line with national trends, said Michael Stoops, with the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless.

 

"People are typically homeless on a short-term basis, but due to the economy in the last four to five years, we're seeing people stay homeless longer," he said. "It's hard for people to find jobs with decent pay and housing costs are as high as ever."

Safety-net services are also limited.

 

Polk County's Section 8 program, which provides utility and rent assistance for low-income families, operates on a four-year waiting list, said Eberbach of the Iowa community institute.

Limits on cash assistance — sometimes called welfare — can also play a role in family homelessness. A 1996 federal law capped at five years the amount of time a family can receive assistance.

 

Bunking with a friend or family member can be risky. Lease requirements routinely limit the number of days a tenant can host guests. Breaking the rule could trigger eviction.

"People end up in uninhabitable places," said Celeste Egger, house manager at St. Joseph's Emergency Family Shelter. "They'll pay for motel rooms by the week. In the end, they're not really saving money" for future rent payments.

The resulting instability affects children.

 

More than 7,300 K-12 Iowa students were considered homeless in 2012-13, according to the Iowa Department of Education. In the Des Moines school district, more than 900 students lack a permanent address.

 

"We have an issue of family homelessness in our community, and that truly impacts those children and their ability to become self-sufficient later in life," said Shanahan, of Hawthorn Hill. "It's difficult for them to focus in school. We see the kids come in with a lot of anxiety, and we know they're at risk to end up being homeless later on in their lives, just like their parents."

 

Housing costs can exceed individuals' income

Groups that assist Des Moines' homeless population agree that more shelter space is needed to serve families.

 

They are quick to point out, however, that additional beds won't solve the issue. Federal investments in recent years have shifted. Instead of supporting more shelters, government spending is now targeted at programs that fast-track homeless individuals into other housing.

 

But in cities like Des Moines, affordable options are limited and families continue to fall through the cracks, Shanahan said.

Statewide statistics show the number of homeless individuals decreased to 5,137 in 2012 from 5,719 in 2011.

 

But other data collected regarding family income and housing prices indicates that thousands of families live on the edge — perhaps technically not homeless, but a mishap away from having no shelter at all.

 

Most homeless families in the state would have to spend 60 percent to 100 percent of their income on rent in order to secure shelter, according to a 2012 report by the Iowa Institute for Community Alliances.

 

For such families, two-thirds of Iowa's available housing is too expensive, even with rental subsidies, according to the study.

 

Those factors make it hard to get by and get out of homelessness, said Rod Klampe II, who lives with his family at St. Joseph's Emergency Family Shelter.

 

More than half of all homeless mothers do not have high school diplomas, according to national statistics. Individuals who were placed in foster care as children are more likely to experience homelessness as adults.

 

"A lot of people came from broken families themselves," Klampe said. "They don't have the support and they never learned the skills. They don't know how to raise a family and manage money."

 

At one point, Klampe and his girlfriend of five years, Channon Kelly, received rental assistance, but it did little to stabilize their eight-person family.

 

"It was paying our rent, but at the same time, we didn't know what the next step would be," said Klampe, who previously worked for a temp agency.

 

Klampe, who dropped out of Ottumwa High School during his sophomore year, now works part time as a waiter at a local restaurant. He is also enrolled in Youth Build, a program that helps participants pass the General Education Development examsand offers job skill training in construction trades.

 

After a month on the street, Klampe and his family are set to move into a rental home on Saturday. A subsidy will help pay for the $875 monthly rent.

 

With an address of their own, Klampe and Kelly say they can finally start to plan for their future.

 

"Your basic needs are food, clothing, shelter; if you don't have one of those things, you can never move on to the next step," Klampe said.