Duluth family of 5 goes from living in SUV to apartmentA Duluth family is at home in a Central Hillside apartment unit after living in their vehicle since May.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
A Duluth family is at home in a Central Hillside apartment unit after living in their vehicle since May.
Randy and Jerrie Koskela and their three children, Scott,
Brandon and Brianna, and their four Shih Tzu dogs moved into the three-bedroom apartment on Thursday, Brianna’s 13th birthday.
Deb Holman, outreach worker for the Human Development
Center and Churches United in Ministry, said people from various government and nonprofit agencies scrambled and cooperated to get the family into the apartment ahead of the Veterans Day holiday so that Brianna could get her wish to have a home for her birthday.
Anton Miketin, who owns the six-unit building on Mesaba
Avenue, said he was willing to rent to the family, even with their dogs. “I was a little taken aback that they had four dogs,” he said. “But I hate to see a family homeless.”
The Koskelas say they found people willing to help more often that not during their six months of homelessness.
“There are so many people out there willing to lend a helping hand,” Randy Koskela said.
“I guess I didn’t realize how many nice people there are in town until this happened,” Jerrie Koskela added.
The family hasn’t found it easy to make ends meet. Randy Koskela is disabled with a degenerative disc disease and arthritis. Jerrie Koskela has found temporary jobs, but not enough to support a family of five.
In May, they were living in a West Duluth motel, but the dogs — seven Shih Tzus at that time — became an issue. Fearing the possibility of an eviction on their record, they chose to leave. But they didn’t have the money for a deposit. They sought transitional housing from local agencies to no avail. “They told me that this was one of their worst years. They don’t have anything available,” Jerrie Koskela said.
They had a Jeep Cherokee, but “it turned out that a Cherokee was too small for a family of five and seven dogs,” Randy Koskela said. They traded it even-up for a Suburban and later traded that for the Silverado.
They’d park at night under the overpass next to Randy’s Cafe on 22nd Avenue West. When Jerrie had a temporary job in the cafeteria at Essentia Health Duluth, they parked in the lot at Dougherty Funeral Home. Randy Koskela said when the owner approached him, he quickly offered to leave. “He said, ‘No, you don’t have to go,’ ” Koskela recalled. “ ‘Stay as long as you have to.’ And at that time he handed me a hundred-dollar bill. … He said, ‘You guys look like you could use something to eat.’ ”
The family had similar experiences when they parked in Lincoln Park. A waitress from Randy’s handed them $20. Another brought them three bags of food.
They had a storage shed on 40th Avenue West where they’d change clothes. They’d go to the tiny Gary-New Duluth apartment where Jerrie’s mother lived for baths.
They didn’t spend every night in the vehicle. Someone gave them a voucher for five nights in a motel. And when they finally decided they needed to give up three of the dogs, the woman who took them also gave them use of her recreational vehicle to spend nights. They spent their last two weeks of homelessness there.
Holman learned about the family in midsummer. “I remember the night she pulled up, I said, ‘Oh, we’re in trouble now,’ ” Randy Koskela said, with a smile.
Holman became their advocate. One evening, she said, “I got a text message in capital letters that said HELP.”
A police officer had pulled them over for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. There insurance was expired, and the officer was going to have the Silverado towed. Holman knew the officer through her work with CHUM and HDC. “I said, ‘Work with me here. Otherwise we’ve got seven dogs to place and five people without a place to go’,” she related. “So he did. He allowed them time to get their insurance. Just another good Samaritan in the community.”
Their new home is sparsely furnished, but beds are coming soon, Holman said. The school system is setting up busing for the kids, Jerrie Koskela said. Scott, 17, is a senior and Brandon, 16, a junior at Denfeld High School; and Brianna is a seventh-grader at Morgan Park Middle School.
Holman said the Koskela family’s situation is becoming more common in the tight economy.
“What I see in all of this is how many people did work together,” Holman said. “A lot of these programs are being cut, and more and more people are becoming homeless. So how are we going to be creative? This was a situation of how so many agencies worked together and were willing to help.”