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For these families in poverty, a better life

Some years Thanksgiving, given its very name, is a tough holiday to get through, and this year, given the terrible economy, could be one of those.

Korey Bell, his girlfriend Athena McKissick and their kids Keya, 5, and her brother Kohron, 4.
MinnPost photo by Cynthia Boyd
Korey Bell, Athena McKissick and their kids Keya, 5, and her brother Kohron, 4.

Yet there are people like Korey Bell, an Ohio transplant who came to Minnesota in search of a better life. Life’s a lot better this Thanksgiving than last, he says. “I’m working now.”

But even with the new job and some help from government aid and non-profit programs, Bell and his girlfriend still struggle to make ends meet as they try to climb out of poverty. So Cub Foods’ gift of the makings for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner – from a 15-pound turkey to mashed potatoes in a box and all the trimmings — brought them back to People Serving People, the downtown Minneapolis family shelter they’d lived in for almost four months earlier this year.

This family, like 150 others at Monday’s gathering, had worked their way out of homelessness due to a continuum of programs including People Serving People, Simpson Housing Services, Project for Pride in Living and St. Stephen’s Human Services. And here the corporate world was playing a part as well. In all, Cub gave away 2,000 Thanksgiving meals.
 
Homeless and jobless last year, Bell, his girlfriend Athena McKissick and their four children now have a place of their own in North Minneapolis. He’s working night shifts as a machine operator at a factory and she has just received certification as a home health aide and expects to be employed soon.
 
“Life is actually a lot better,” Bell, 33, tells me. He makes about $1,100 a month. They receive child support and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds and got housing financial help from St. Stephen’s for four months.
 
I met others on Monday who were hopeful at People Serving People.

Jacqueline Morgan, who fell homeless when she lost her customer-service job with a pharmacy chain, just moved out of the shelter after a four-year stay.
 
While there she learned self-confidence and how to be her own advocate, she says, and took advantage of classes the shelter offered, including job-search training. Now, with the help of various social-service programs, she lives with her two daughters in a town home in Brooklyn Center while looking for a job. 
 
Montesia Smith, 29, sought me out to tell her story. Only last week she and her fiancé moved out of People Serving People to their own place in south Minneapolis. He recently was hired by Wal-Mart and soon she will start a job as a personal care assistant.
 
Smith praises Minnesota for its services for the homeless. In Kansas City, Kan., where she’s from, shelters don’t offer programs like job-search services and training that People Serving People does, she says.
 
Besides those struggling with poverty, Monday’s gathering drew representatives from the city of Minneapolis, the state and non-profits who were there to laud local efforts to house the poor.
 
Bell, Morgan and Smith say those efforts changed their lives.
 
There’s a lot more work to be done, but there was optimism at the event, including in these words from Julie Manworren:
 
“We really can end homelessness,” said the executive director of Simpson Housing.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Pat Thompson on 11/22/2011 - 12:49 pm.

    Thanks to St. Stephen’s, PPL, PSP and all of the other nonprofits that work their butts off, especially facing the most recent wave of need created by the 2008 financial disaster.

    I wish there were more stories like this that give a sense of the differences between the Twin Cities and other areas when it comes to the safety net. Too often, we don’t appreciate what we have until it has been eroded out from under us.

  2. Submitted by Derrick Schluck on 11/22/2011 - 03:04 pm.

    I am completely in support of these programs, but situations like the Bell’s makes me wonder where any sence of personal responsibility before having children lye; “Homeless and jobless last year, Bell, his girlfriend Athena McKissick and their four children”

    They might not have been in that situation from the begining with a little family planning, but that is another topic for another day. God knows that program was probably cut too, on religious grounds.

  3. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 11/23/2011 - 05:33 am.

    How much of our poverty is due to people coming from elsewhere for Minnesota’s very generous welfare benefits?

    http://www.startribune.com/politics/blogs/112933714.html

    Census numbers, just in time for today’s talking points, say MN welfare spending at 37% (updated)
    Updated: January 5, 2011 – 4:10 PM

    “State government spending on public welfare was greater than 30 percent of general expenditures in 11 states, led by Minnesota (37.5 percent),” the government numbers bureau said in a news release Wednesday.

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/23/2011 - 10:07 am.

    Part of government’s responsibility is to keep people safe. We tend to overdo one form of that responsibility by kabillions of dollars spent on defense, homeland security and a worldwide network of military installations, but not nearly enough on keeping people safe from poverty and its attendant lack of access to adequate housing, health care, jobs and higher ed.

    That Minnesota spends more than some other states is to our credit, not something to be “corrected” so we’d be more like Mississippi or Alabama.

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