Homeless feel unfairly stereotyped amid opposition to Moorhead complex
MOORHEAD, Minn. – The small child came in the house, tiny hands grasping shiny metal objects that she discovered while playing in the yard.
They were bullet shells.
That’s the day Derisha Waddell knew she and her now 6-year-old daughter had to leave north Minneapolis. That’s also the day when Waddell decided to move to Moorhead and became homeless.
“I couldn’t do it anymore,” the 27-year-old mother recalled. “I wanted to give my daughter a chance. I didn’t want to raise her up like that.”
Waddell has been living at Churches United for the Homeless in Moorhead since May 15. The shelter’s leaders are proposing a new apartment complex on the city’s north side, where 24 of the 41 units would house families like Waddell’s.
The building has become a lightning rod for elected officials and neighbors. Residents have crowded city and county meetings, airing their concerns about safety.
Waddell said she understands those fears; she moved out of north Minneapolis to keep her child safe. But she also thinks the homeless are being unfairly stereotyped.
“It’s kind of sad because when people talk like that, it’s like, you know, where’s the humanity?” Waddell said. “We’re here to help each other.”
Like for any other apartment, potential tenants for the Churches United building will go through background checks, said Executive Director Jane Alexander.
The difference is, Alexander said, Churches United won’t automatically turn someone down because of a felony or bad credit.
“We’re trying to be the landlord they cannot find out there,” she said.
If previous crimes are found during a background check, Alexander said they would weigh each case individually and carefully. If the crime occurred a long time ago and was nonviolent and the person has shown commitment to bettering themselves, they might have a shot at being a tenant, she said.
She also stressed there would be security cameras throughout the building and 24-hour staff.
“Mostly people are going to go about their lives and have the ups and downs that people have in their lives, but it won’t be evictable,” she said, “and it won’t be something the neighbors are going to notice, I hope.”
Churches United is waiting to hear if it will receive a $6 million deferred loan from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to help fund construction of the $6.5 million building. They should find out in October.
The apartment complex also would have 17 units for single residents.
Churches United aims to house those 55 and older, veterans or the disabled in those units, like John “Wheels” Krueger, who’s been homeless since 2001 when a car struck him at 51 mph while he was walking across a four-lane highway in Wisconsin.
The near-fatal accident put him in a coma for 27 days, severed two arteries – one in his right leg and another in the left arm – and left him with a rod, two 4-inch bolts and five pins in his legs, 7 feet less of small intestine and plenty of scar tissue.
“They must have been pouring blood in me,” Krueger said. “It was coming out as fast as they were putting it in.”
Originally confined to a wheelchair – the source of his nickname – Krueger, 58, is now walking, but the damage to his legs makes it difficult to stand for long. He hasn’t been able to hold a full-time job, and he’s been in and out of Churches United for about two years. He’s now living on the streets.
Krueger said he’s watched the public meetings where neighbors have aired concerns about the homeless living nearby in the proposed complex.
“I think they’re misjudging us,” he said. “Some people picture us as a bum, a person with a brown paper bag with a bottle in it. And I’ll be truthful with you, you might see that, but you see that in society, too, not just the homeless.”
The apartment complex would be a fresh start for people who deserve it, Krueger said, a chance to “show society that they can do good.”
“They’re not just going to let anybody in there off the street,” he said. “That is not what this thing is about. It’s to help people get a new start in life.”
Waddell’s path to homelessness started before the home in north Minneapolis and the bullet shells in her backyard.
She was living in a one-bedroom apartment before that and was laid off from her job. She got help from the Minnesota Family Investment Program to pay for about two-thirds of her rent and spent months attending job interview readiness classes and looking for work.
After a few months of not being able to pay rent in full, she was kicked out of her apartment in November 2010 and got an “unlawful detainer” slapped on her record.
It’s made finding a landlord to rent to her nearly impossible.
“When I do find someone, of course it’s in the worst neighborhood,” Waddell said.
That’s how she ended up in a crime-stricken area of north Minneapolis, where she lived for about a year. Unable to stay with family and looking to escape domestic abuse and the violence of her neighborhood, she left for Moorhead.
She says things are looking up. She recently got a housing voucher to live in Wahpeton, N.D., and last week was hired at a restaurant there.
Waddell said she hopes those who have concerns about the Moorhead project can inform themselves, perhaps by volunteering at Churches United.
“There’s actually good people at the shelter,” she said. “You have the ones that are problems, but that’s anywhere in life. Wherever you move, wherever you go, there’s always that bad apple, but there’s a lot of good people in there.”