Western metro nonprofit spotlights rising suburban poverty

| November 16, 2010 | 0 Comments

On the outside, Beth’s life looked like the American dream: She lived in a beautiful house near Lake Minnetonka, and her husband’s career allowed her to stay home to raise her two young sons. It was a comfortable —?even enviable — life for a woman in her late 20s.

But that was the facade. On the inside, Beth had endured emotional abuse from her husband since the beginning of their marriage. And when she tried to leave the marriage for the sake of her sons, the abuse turned physically violent.

Beth, who requested that her last name not be used, left her husband in 2007 and obtained a divorce, but it cost her nearly everything.

Because her husband failed to pay bills, she and her boys lost their home and moved in with Beth’s father. Although Beth, now 35, worked in management and sales prior to her marriage, she didn’t have a college degree, so finding a good job was difficult. When she realized that she had exhausted her own re­sources, she turned to Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, a nonprofit serving eight western metro suburbs.

Several Catholic parishes are part of the effort.

When people think of poverty, most don’t think of Twin Cities suburbs — especially those around Lake Minnetonka, where big boats and bigger houses reign supreme. Yet, Beth and her sons are among 4,495 individuals from 1,469 households IOCP helped in fiscal year 2009-2010. And, suburban poverty is on the rise. Since 2004, IOCP’s housing assists have increased by 38 percent.

Economy a ‘perfect storm’

Beth is among “the new poor” — those who had no history of poverty but became poor during the economic recession due to home foreclosures or lack of job opportunities.

Many of them were not as financially secure as Beth once seemed to be. In the 1990s, moderate- and lower-income people migrated to the suburbs for safe streets, good schools and new jobs, including people who were “living on the edge,” said LaDonna Hoy, IOCP’s executive director.

When the recession hit, it didn’t take much for some people to reach a tipping point.

The organization serves Hamel, Long Lake, Medicine Lake, Medina, Minnetonka Beach, Orono, Wayzata and Plymouth.

Hoy describes the current economic situation as “the perfect storm” for organizations like IOCP — more people need help, and less people are able to help.

Currently, IOCP?is turning away 20 to 30 of the roughly 100 people who request housing assistance each month because the organization lacks the funding. Hoy hopes fundraising efforts can help it meet every housing need next year.

She sees more people “patching jobs” — or working several part-time jobs to pay the bills, but they are likely not receiving benefits.

“By the time they get to us, they’ve usually gone through all other venues,”?Hoy said. “Their back is to the wall.”

As poverty has increased, so has IOCP’s efforts to educate its community. Today, the communities are more engaged around the issue of suburban poverty, Hoy said. “[Suburban poverty] is not as hidden as it used to be,” she added.

Each year, IOCP hosts Sleep Out, a campaign to raise awareness and funds for the housing needs of families it serves. Last year it raised $1.6 million. This year’s Sleep Out kicked off Nov. 12 and lasts until Dec. 12.  Its goal is to raise $1.8 million.

In addition to housing assistance, which ranges from rent assistance to connecting families to affordable housing, IOCP also works to meet needs related to employment, transportation, child care, food and community connectedness.

Last year, 1,241 families used its food shelf, and many of them visited multiple times. In total, the food shelf had 14,417 requests for food.

Additionally, IOCP?provided Thanksgiving meals to 579 families in 2009.

Asking for help

The first time Beth used a food shelf at a local church was humbling, she said, but the volunteers were kind to her.

“I remember feeling, ‘I?can’t believe I’m here,’” she said.

Yet, she also felt relief as she received bag after bag of groceries for her family.

She never expected to be in a situation where she would need real help, she said. Beth was used to being the one helping. In high school, she was 4-H president, and she volunteered at St. Stephen’s Human Services in Minneapolis. In her early 20s, she was active in community environment advocacy, and was planning to serve as her garden club’s president before her divorce.

For Beth, the most important thing IOCP offered was emotional support as she filled out paperwork for food stamps and other governmental assistance programs. Without IOCP, she had little idea of how to obtain the resources available for helping her get back on her feet.

One of IOCP’s mantras is “respect first, help second,” Hoy said.

Even though Beth had a roof over her head, she fit into Hoy’s description of homeless. Some homeless sleep outside in parks, but many others stay on friends’ couches, or move in temporarily with another family. Beth only planned to stay with her father and his family for a short time, but it turned into nearly two years.

St. Anne in Hamel, Holy Name of Jesus in Medina, St. Bartholomew in Wayzata, and St. George in Long Lake are among 24 area faith congregations that support IOCP. The outreach grew out of St. Bartholomew in the late 1970s.

Hoy was St. Bartholomew’s director of pastoral ministry at that time, and she became IOCP’s executive director when it became its own organization in 1979. She describes her motivation as “Gospel driven,” but she emphasizes that IOCP collaborates with and helps people of all faiths, or none.

Holy Name of Jesus was one of IOCP’s founding churches, and it continues to support the organization. It took a special collection for IOCP?Nov. 6-7 and is planning a three-night event for the IOCP Sleep Out. It regularly collects food at three of its weekend Masses for IOCP’s food shelf.

“[IOCP does] superb work, and I?think their growth and support they’ve gotten through the community is a testament to that,” said Sabrina Mauritz, director of parish life at Holy Name of Jesus.

Beyond poverty

In August, IOCP?helped Beth move her family out of her father’s house and into affordable housing. Having a place for her boys to call home means a lot, Beth said. She is now a University of Min­nesota student studying environmental science, and she hopes to go on to earn a master’s degree and eventually work in environmental planning and policy. IOCP?has helped pay for her books, and it paid for new tires for her car.

She’s looking forward to the day when she has a good job and can afford a mortgage on her own house, she said. Yet, she doesn’t know what she would have done without the help, she said.

“The surrender to needing help is humbling, but it’s a gift,” Beth said. “It’s good to know that even though there are certain things you do alone, you are never alone.”

You can help!

Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners is hosting its annual Sleep Out housing campaign Nov. 12 to Dec. 12. Since 1986, the annual Sleep Out has raised funds and awareness about suburban poverty and homelessness. This year’s goal is $1.8 million.

During the Sleep Out, supporters donate funds to IOCP to support people who spend a night sleeping outside, or they sleep outside themselves to alert others about the need to support the housing solutions IOCP provides.
Visit http://www.iocp.org/sleep-out to learn more or donate online.

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Category: Local News, Spotlight