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Families have tough time finding housing

WORTHINGTON -- When she picked up her young children and moved to Worthington for a new job this summer, Natalie (an assumed name to protect her identity) had not expected to have such difficulty finding a place for her family to spend the night.

She had left both an apartment and a steady job in Storm Lake, Iowa, in the hopes of earning more money to support her family in Worthington. Instead, she was forced to turn to others when she couldn't find a home and couldn't afford to keep staying in a motel.

That is when Sharon Johnson of the Nobles County Integration Collaborative and Nichole Paladie of Catholic Charities stepped in.

After spending three weeks in a local motel, feeding her family with subsidies received at one of Worthington's food shelves and preparing meals in a microwave, Natalie turned to her friends for help. For another two weeks, the family of four lived under someone else's roof as they continued to seek housing.

By the end of the fifth week in Worthington, with nowhere else to turn, Natalie and her children were among five families taken in by the Indian Lake Baptist Church south of town. They slept on the floor in the church's gathering hall for a week as Johnson and Paladie assisted Natalie in the search of available rental units.

School was to start in a matter of days, adding to the sense of urgency to find housing. Still, it took two more weeks, with the parishioners at Indian Lake Baptist Church paying for their motel room, before Natalie and her children would get settled.

They found a small duplex, badly in need of cleaning and repair, but it was something -- a place Natalie and her family could call home.

"I have three kids, and I don't have a lot of money," said Natalie.

She filled out rental applications for three or four other rental properties in Worthington before she was finally approved to rent the duplex.

"I'm happy, I'm very happy," Natalie said with an ear-to-ear grin as she sat in her humble surroundings with her mother and several of the children they care for during the day. "The kids are good -- they're in school."

Natalie's mom recently moved to Worthington from Storm Lake to help the family. While her presence means an extra mouth to feed on Natalie's income, her mother is earning some money by taking care of other children. It may not be much, but every little bit helps.

Before "grandma" arrived, Natalie's oldest daughter was in charge of her younger siblings while their mom worked. She made sure they ate, washed and went to bed on time. It was a lot of responsibility during their two months in transition.

Kristy (also an assumed name to preserve her identity), a child from one of the other families who spent nearly two months bouncing around between motel rooms, homes of family friends and Indian Lake Baptist Church, seemed to take it all in stride.

At a mere 10 years old she, too, was responsible for her younger siblings while her mom worked to put food on their table and to find a place for them to live. Kristy made sure they were fed, diapers were changed and the kids behaved.

"It's just that you have to teach them the right things and not the wrong things. I was taught very hard because I am the oldest," she said, exuding confidence and knowledge well beyond her young age. "Sometimes you gotta do what I say."

Kristy continues to watch out for her younger siblings today -- in a home they found to rent just before the start of school.

"It was very hard because all of the houses for (rent), they didn't want to borrow them (to us)," Kristysaid of their search for a home.

During the weeks they stayed at a local motel, Kristy said the kids were "trapped in our own little place." Only for a second, she said, did they think they would never find a home of their own.

"It was hard because you would bounce to this place and another place and go back and forth," said Kristy. "Why can't we just stay in one place and have a place to call home? At least (now) I can call something home for more than a month."

For those kids who might someday be in a situation where they don't have a place to call home, Kristy said, "Life can be difficult for some people, but for anybody else that's going through my trouble, hang on, because you'll get through it."

Editor's note: This is the third in a five-part series.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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