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New program helps chronically homeless

Christal Luellen

After being homeless off and on for the past four years, Christal Luellen is in a home and working toward maintaining her independence, through a new program begun by the St. Croix and Polk County branches of the Salvation Army.

The Supportive Housing Program (SHP) was created to help people who have extra difficulty finding permanent housing.

"It's a good chance to get back on your feet," Luellen said.

Luellen became homeless around four years ago. She was pregnant with her youngest child, whose father had left her and her children. Luellen and her two sons lived in a tent for about a month until an acquaintance told Luellen about Grace Place.

"I had nowhere else to go. I was out of options," Luellen said.

Luellen, who had moved out on her own at age 17, said admitting she needed help was difficult for her at first. She said she had to learn to depend on other people.

"It's been a little bit easier now that I'm more comfortable with the staff at Grace Place," Luellen said. "They don't make me feel bad for needing their help."

After the birth of her youngest child, a daughter, Luellen was able to leave Grace Place and take her family into a home of their own. But it didn't last. Luellen said she has been in and out of homelessness since then.

Being the single mother of three children, now aged 11, 7 and 3 years old, can be challenging when it comes to keeping a job and paying bills. Luellen said she has struggled to find a daycare provider and a job that pays enough to cover day care costs as well as rent.

"It's very hard," Luellen said, "especially as a mom, you don't want your kids to suffer for anything that you've done."

However, it is also her children who help her keep going through her struggles with homelessness.

"I don't have a choice," Luellen said, "I have to carry on and do what I need to do to make sure they're taken care of."

In addition to being focused on helping those who have extra difficulty finding permanent housing, SHP focuses on helping people with mental health issues.

Lori Scheder, of the St. Croix County branch of the Salvation Army, said she has seen mental health issues in many people who struggle with homelessness. This is one reason why the Salvation Army focus on helping people with mental health issues through SHP.

"Sometimes people fall through the cracks, especially with mental health issues," Scheder said. "I think, if we address those, that's a big deal."

The program was started in April with funding from a grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Those in the program live in homes or apartments leased by the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army is leasing 21 rental properties in St. Croix and Pierce County through SHP. The participants can be families or individuals, who are homeless prior to entering the program.

Scheder said this allows people to get out of the shelter faster.

"They can focus on getting back on their feet, but in a very comfortable environment," Scheder said.

As the program does focus on mental health issues, a caseworker visits the participants each week. The caseworker helps the participants set goals to help themselves deal with whatever mental health issues they may have that are preventing them from obtaining permanent housing.

"Their first goal might be seeing their therapist," Scheder said. "Getting counseling, that's a big step for some of them."

Luellen struggles with anxiety problems, which further complicates the job search process for her.

"The interviewing process... causes me to have panic attacks," Luellen said.

Luellen's current goal is to get a job, so her caseworker has been doing mock interviews with her, to help calm her anxiety over the job interview process.

"It's a process but it does (help)," Luellen said. "I'm grateful for the support."

Luellen has been in her home in Somerset, courtesy of SHP, since April. She said the support she's received from her SHP caseworker and the Grace Place staff over the years has meant a lot to her.

"Without them, I don't know where I would be," Luellen said.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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