Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Homeless Women in Bradenton: Hit with car repairs and medical bills, Leticia Longoria could not make her rent in November. Faced with the terrifying prospect of life on the streets with two children, Longoria, sought help at the Salvation Army family shelter. Two months later, she's still there, trying to save for a place of their own. Longoria, who makes $7.25 an hour, can stay as long as she is willing to work hard to get out.

Longoria's situation is typical, said Ashley Canesse, Salvation Army spokeswoman. As wages have not kept up with housing costs, affordable housing options decline. Those forces, Canesse said, result in longer shelter stays, which lower the number of people the shelter can serve. Five years ago the average family shelter stay was three weeks. By 2006, the average stay stretched seven months. "We took 1,640 calls from families and women last year who had no place to go," said Joanell Greubel, family shelter director. "But we had to turn away 1,401 because the family shelter was full."

The Salvation Army put some of those families in motels until a shelter vacancy opened. Others were referred to local social service agencies. The Salvation Army also runs a separate men's shelter, which housed more than 1,700 last year.
The shelter crunch is particularly hard on women without children, because women with children have priority, Canesse said. That policy has led to a misunderstanding among some local agencies that the Salvation Army will not take women without children.

But last year, nearly half of the 243 people housed in the family shelter were women without children, the majority of them between 31 and 61. The family shelter count included 45 mothers or grandmothers with 87 children, half younger than age five."To take in more, we would have to make some leave, but where would they go?" Canesse asked. "Our first task is to eliminate economic obstacles, then get money for transportation and then money for housing," said Greubel.

Four shelter occupants shared how the Salvation Army is helping them reach that goal.

Leticia Longoria, 32
"It's hard to live here, because there are so many rules, but the Salvation Army has helped me so much," said Longoria, whose husband abandoned her and Yareli Jessamine, their 1-year-old daughter, in Texas in October, 2005. Longoria was one month pregnant at the time. Her husband didn't return even when his son, Felix Jesus, was born.

A licensed hair stylist, Longoria worked in a J.C. Penney beauty salon.

"My family helped as much as they could, but life was hard," she said.

She filed for child support, but the money never came.

In late August, she moved to Manatee County to join two of her cousins.

But she couldn't work as a stylist until she got a Florida license. That meant more classes. To get by, Longoria took a job on an assembly line, earning $7.25 an hour.

From August through October, she rented a room from her cousins, and then from two co-workers. But it never worked out. Too many people in too tight space, she said.

What little she saved was then wiped out by medical bills, car repairs and a trip to Texas for a child support hearing her husband failed to attend.

Greubel and her staff have helped Longoria complete her classes and file papers for her hair stylist's license, arrange for subsidized child care and set up a budget.

Longoria is determined to get out.

"If my kids don't get sick and my car doesn't break down, I will be OK," she said. "I have set a goal and I am sticking to it because my kids need me."

Tye Brawn, 23

Brawn entered the family shelter Nov. 29 on a referral from Catholic Charities. She was eight months pregnant with a child whose father is in jail on a drug charge. Complicated family situations made living at with relatives impossible, she said. Other shelters in Sarasota and Bradenton turned her down.

"Because of my drug arrests, nobody would take me," Brawn said. "But I stopped doing drugs when I found out I was pregnant. I don't want any part of that life any more. I am making a new life for me and my baby."

Greubel believed Brawn and gave her one of the few beds available for single women.

"She told me, 'Yes, you had trouble, but you are doing something about it, aren't you? You wouldn't be here, if you weren't looking for help.' "

If Greubel had not believed in her, Brawn doesn't know what would have happened.

"I've found out that when you stop fighting the world, the world stops fighting you," said Brawn, who is scheduled to have a delivery by Cesarean section Wednesday.

After the birth, Brawn said her mother has agreed to take her and the baby in until she is well. Then, Brawn hopes to return to the shelter with her new son.

"I - we - are going to be OK, with their help," Brawn said, laying her hand on her belly. "Someday I am going to wake up in my own place, and I will have done it on my own because they helped me."

Nancy Guzman, 36

Nancy Guzman completed six job searches Thursday, just as she has done every day since she entered the family shelter a month ago.

Guzman, mother of five, is confident that one of her prospects will come through, now that she is off her crutches and can walk easily.

Guzman lost her job as a cashier this fall when she broke her foot.

She says she had no benefits and no sick leave. Out of work, she was afraid to renew her lease on her apartment when it came due Nov. 30.

Her three oldest children, who are 18, 17 and 15, live with their stepdad, she said.

Her 11-year-old son is with a friend in Tampa.

Guzman's 9-year-old daughter is with her at the shelter.

This is Guzman's second stay. She sought help in September of 2005 when battling a drug addiction. During that first stay, Guzman was enrolled in an out-patient drug treatment program at Manatee Glens.

"I have been off drugs ever since," she said. "They wouldn't have let me back in here if I wasn't. I chose to be here because I didn't want to return to old friends and old habits."

With the shelter staff's help, Guzman has applied for subsidized housing. They have helped her work out a budget so she knows how much she needs to earn.

Michelle Besina, 36

Michelle Besina has been living at the family shelter with four of her five children for the past three weeks. Her oldest lives with a friend.

Her husband, Elgin Besina, is a construction worker and stays in the men's shelter. Like other shelter residents, he must complete six job searches a day until he finds work.

"It's hard to be separated from him, but we are lucky because the children and I are lucky to have a room of our own," Besina said.

"But we get to see him when we eat," said Scott, 7, as he cradled a plastic dinosaur in his arms. His sister, Tashina, 9, played with colored beads on the floor. Their older sisters, Felicia, 13 and Cheyenne, 12, were out for the afternoon.

The kids have adjusted, said Besina, but she worries about the future.

They came to Manatee County from Texas with her sister hoping to find work. But her sister left without them. They stayed in a motel until their money ran out. Then they turned to the Salvation Army.

Greubel and her staff are trying to help find them a place to live once her husband finds work.

"They have been so helpful," said Besina. "They gave the kids toys and clothes. We get to be all together during meals and outside. We are safe here, until we can get back on our feet."

Donna Wright, health and social services reporter, can be reached at 745-7049 or at dwright@HeraldToday.com.

Story by Donna Wright

Fair market rent in Manatee County for a two-bedroom apartment is $857. To afford this apartment:

• A household must earn $34,280 annually, or make $16.48 an hour.

• A minimum-wage worker at $6.40 an hour must work 103 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. (Based on 2006 minimum wage.)

• A worker earning $10.62 an hour (the average wage of renters in Manatee County) must work 61 hours a week, 52 weeks a year.

• An apartment costing $857 a month is out reach for 29 percent of Manatee County families.

SOURCE: National Low Income Housing Coalition and U.S. Census Bureau

yeah well what about the not so good side of the salvation army as to when they put woman and children out of the shelter for not so good reasons and then do it to the next set as well. Yeah they have some success stories but what about the ones that do everything they need to do and then one day they terminated from the program and none of the staff can give a good reason as to why that is? they help the ones that are there favorites in the salvation army not the ones who really need there attention and support.
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