Cristine lives in a modest studio apartment on Pleasant Avenue. It’s small—at just 17 feet by 10 feet—but much bigger than the van she called home on and off over the years. It is larger than the couches she’d slept on, larger still than the bunks she was offered when she stayed in a Minneapolis shelter.
Her path to homelessness was a winding one.
“The kids moved out and I had this big house I couldn’t afford. I didn’t have the strength or energy to take care of it,” she said.
She brought in roommates to help pay the mortgage but describes them as unreliable. Depressed, stressed and overwhelmed, Cristine became addicted to alcohol and drugs. She sold the house when home values were at their lowest point. She didn’t make any money on the sale and was left with no place to call home.
“I kept trying to get help. I just couldn’t follow through with anything. It took me a long time to get all of the help I needed,” she said.
Thankfully, Cristine was able to attend treatment and then spent her days going to every AA meeting she could find.
“You have to find a place to go all day and when you’re in a meeting, you’re not on the street,” she said.
Cristine sought help to get off the streets, but didn’t fit certain program restrictions. At the Catholic Charities’ Opportunity Center in Minneapolis, Cristine was able to finally connect the dots and get started on her pathway out of poverty.
“That’s what I love about our program. If you’re homeless, we can help you,” said Melea Blanchard, program supervisor of Catholic Charities’ Homeless Elders program. Catholic Charities’ Homeless Elders program helped Cristine with the search for a home, got her signed up for Social Security and a Community Access for Disability Inclusion (CADI) waiver so she could receive independent living skill training, help maintaining her housing and a yearly check in. Catholic Charities’ Housing First program secured her apartment and works to help keep her there by providing services such as a rent subsidy each month.
According to a Wilder Foundation survey, seniors are the fastest growing age group among Minnesotans experiencing homelessness. Between 2009 and 2015, homelessness among seniors increased by 59 percent.
The increase is due, in part, because more and more seniors are unable to afford maintenance on their own homes, as happened to Cristine. Before coming to Catholic Charities, Cristine struggled to walk, suffered from arthritis and needed knee surgery. She also needed help managing mental health issues, namely Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Major Depressive Disorder.
Cristine was able to get her knees fixed and regain mobility. Her joints damaged from years of working in warehouses, Cristine earned a grant from Dunwoody College of Technology and enrolled in a six-month commercial sewing program. She now has a part-time job working for a local company sewing costumes.
“Sparkles and spangles and stretchy, shiny stuff, I just sew my whole day and I like it,” Cristine said with a smile.
While life is not without challenges to conquer, the great grandmother is proud of how far she has come and incredibly thankful for those that gave her a hand-up along her journey.“I’m proud of picking it up and getting it together again,” she said. “I always felt I just couldn’t do it somehow. When I was at my lowest point and really didn’t walk really well and was depressed and in pain all of the time…I’m glad I go out of that. When I see people now who are struggling to walk and have no place to go, I just want to tell them there is a way out!”