During a Thursday morning visit to Duluth, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan heard firsthand accounts of the difference state funding has played in the lives of young people now residing at Lutheran Social Service's Center for Changing Lives.
Joshua Kortes said he was one of the first people to move into the center, which provides services and permanent housing for young people who were formerly homeless, as well as transitional housing for other youths who are in danger of becoming homeless.
Kortes said he had been homeless since the age of 14, living along the waterfront in Duluth and in a Superior swamp for two or three years before deciding that he couldn't take another brutal winter outdoors. "I've still got dead skin coming off my feet," he said.
Lutheran Social Service found another option for Kortes, now the father of a 4-month-old daughter named Ethereal.
"They gave me a chance to get out of there and get into a home and get my life together a little bit by a little bit. That means a lot, because life sucked. Life sucked really bad. But now I've got a family, and we've got a home, and we've got people who have got our backs," he said.
Mercedes Moore said she first got kicked out of her home at age 14, cycling in and out of the residence, but found herself completely homeless at 19 as a single mother.
Moore qualified for housing assistance but had trouble finding anyone willing to rent to her.
"Since I was in and out of a home, I didn't always make the best decisions lawfully and legally and all that crap. So, my background was pretty eff'ed up, and trying to find a home was not that easy," she said.
A tearful Moore recalled her feelings of gratitude when she was offered a lease at the Center for Changing Lives, saying: "When they gave me that pen to sign that piece of paper, oh my god, I just felt so much relief. This right here is my second chance. Thank you for my second chance. Yeah, because now we get to give you one," she said, smiling down on her 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Bella.
“You gave us a chance to be more than trash.”
"You gave us a chance to be more than trash. You gave us a chance to be more than a statistic," Kortes said. "We can be better than just that person on the street that you try to avoid."
Moore said the need to find housing was her primary source of stress before coming to live at the center.
"Housing is the base of everyone's life. I don't care where you live or who you live with, as long as you have a home, that one stress button in the back of your head is not blinking 24/7," she said, adding that now she feels better able to pursue an education that will lead to better employment opportunities.
Flanagan thanked Moore and Kortes for sharing their stories and said: "I'm excited for you all and what's possible for you and your beautiful kiddos."
The lieutenant governor said she grew up St. Louis Park, Minn., as part of a family that initially relied on Section 8 housing voucher to help pay the rent.
"Personally this issue is important to me, because that foundation that we were able to establish allowed us to build a life. So, it is our job to do as much as we can around this issue of housing to support children and families. Our young people clearly need communities to wrap our arms around them and give them a really good start," she said.
The Center for Changing lives was built with the help of $4.2 million in funding from Minnesota Housing and Infrastructure Bonds.
Flanagan said: "We're really grateful to be able to highlight a place and space that's working for community members and families and to lift up the fact that we absolutely need more dollars that are going towards housing, for the full spectrum of needs out there."
"It is no secret that the governor and I care tremendously about housing. It's one of the most important things for us," said Flanagan, noting that stable housing provides a foundation that promotes, health, learning and a sense of well-being.