A reminder of homelessness in Steele County
Owatonna and Steele County residents gathered at the Owatonna Holiday Inn last week for the 11th annual Transitional Housing of Steele County Eliminate Homelessness Breakfast.
Transitional Housing is an interfaith organization that helps individuals and families with their housing needs. More than 1,100 individuals have been housed since the group was organized in 2000.
Each November the group has an early morning breakfast and noon lunch that serves to remind local residents that there are people in Owatonna who are either homeless or facing homelessness.
As it does every year, this year’s breakfast event included comments by an individual who has been helped by Transitional Housing. Last week it was Jeri Renk who explained how Transitional Housing has changed her life.
She explained how she had struggled with homelessness and addiction from time to time throughout her adult life and finally ended up in jail. She ultimately went through treatment and had a job but a medical diagnosis of COPD once again made her unemployed. Then her landlord told his tenants that the apartment building was being sold and they needed to move.
By June of 2018, she said, she was living in her vehicle in Owatonna. She kept looking for apartments, she said, but could not find one she could afford.
“Still, I never strayed from my faith,” she said. “I continued to call around to apartments and churches. That’s when a friend put me in touch with Transitional Housing.”
It didn’t happen immediately, she said, but Transitional Housing, along with the Salvation Army and St. Vincent De Paul, helped cover the deposit and first month’s rent.
In December of 2018, she said, she was admitted to the two-year transitional housing program. Her rent is subsidized monthly and she pays a portion. She has a case manager who helps with budgeting and goal setting.
Today, she said, she and her daughter never have to worry about where they will be laying their heads from one night to the next.
“I will never forget what you donors have done for us,” she said. “Thank you for believing in us, for never giving up on us, and for convincing us that we could succeed. We will never forget you. Praise be to God!”
To carry out the mission of responding to people with housing needs, Transitional Housing works with groups to help create and locate affordable housing for homeless families and individuals, said Deb Langer, a member of the group’s board of directors.
“Right now, hundreds of people are homeless in Steele County,” said Board Member Kristy Thiel. “Many of them are children. As we approach the cold winter months in Minnesota, people are tucking their children in at night, not sure where they will sleep the next day.
“Homelessness touches each of our elementary schools, middle school and high school,” she said. “These are children. Children the age of your daughters and sons. Oftentimes, those children end up homeless as well as they grow into adults.”
The organization, she said, prevents homelessness by providing eviction prevention assistance for those facing eviction due to an inability to pay rent. This program can cover the cost of rent for one month to keep them safely housed.
For those already homeless, she said, they help families and individuals find apartments and provide ongoing rent assistance according to income and also deposits, budgeting help and case management for the two years they are eligible for the program.
They also partner with the Crisis Resource Center and U.S. Department of Justice to offer advocacy and housing for victims fleeing domestic violence, Thiel said, as well as working with the Steele County Detention Center to provide housing assistance to qualified offenders as they re-enter the community.