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Victims of fire, and now housing shortage in Duluth

Four days after she signed a new lease and promptly set up her 2-year-old son's Thomas the Tank Engine playset in his room, Lindsey Davidson found herself homeless.

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Lindsey Davidson, 23, (foreground) and Scott Love, 40, flip through pictures of the Applewood Knoll apartment fire on their cell phones in Love's trailer Monday morning. The two both lived in the apartment complex and got out with little more than the clothes they wore. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

Four days after she signed a new lease and promptly set up her 2-year-old son's Thomas the Tank Engine playset in his room, Lindsey Davidson found herself homeless.

A victim of the Easter Sunday fire that destroyed Duluth's Applewood Knoll apartments, Davidson is - for now - living in a camper with another displaced resident, Scott Love, at a Midway Township campground.

Since the fire, Davidson has been sleep-deprived and her "anxiety is through the roof," she said. The Iraq War veteran soon will be leaving for three weeks of inpatient post-traumatic stress disorder treatment at the St. Cloud Veterans Affairs Health Care System. She already was struggling to deal with the aftereffects of war; the stress of the fire now is stacked upon it. She's hoping it marks the beginning of a fresh start.

"This is real. We are all homeless," the 23-year-old Davidson said Monday, with Love beside her on the camper couch, snowflakes visible through the window at Buffalo House's Buffalo Valley Campground. "When somebody hands you a bag of clothes, you never think that would be you. I've always had a closet full of clothes."

Davidson's was among 19 families displaced by the April 5 fire at the apartment complex at 1705-1707 E. Second St. Most have only just begun what promises to be a long road back to permanent housing. More than 30 agencies are involved in finding housing for the displaced, but the number could be 300 and the problem would remain the same.

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"Part of the issue is Duluth has a crisis in affordable housing," said Christina Woods, executive director for the American Indian Community Housing Organization. "This is really an illustration of where we're at in the community of Duluth."

AICHO is working closely with five of the families, Woods said.

Salvation Army caseworker Elise Strader is working closely with other families. She said everybody displaced by the fire appears to be temporarily stable at this point. After first taking refuge in a local hotel, the victims have since dispersed, mostly staying with family and friends. One family found its prospects so discouraging it moved back to Cumberland, Wis. Another spent time in a house offered up by a local church. Still another family spent time in vacant space in an old psychiatric facility that is scheduled to be converted into office space in the near future.

"They're all just kind of waiting - hoping for something this summer," Strader said.

Strader explained that a lot of low-income housing units see turnover in the summer, when landlords are more likely to evict the most unruly tenants. While there is a preference for vacancies going to people who have been displaced, there is no such thing as a rush order when it comes to housing.

Woods explained that affordable housing "means having the ability to afford your home - that your home is not costing more than 50 percent of your income."

Because many of the Applewood Knoll residents had lived there for years, they'd settled into situations that didn't necessitate them having to be on federal housing vouchers. They worked; they scratched out their livings and paid Applewood Knoll rents that were income-based.

Now suddenly homeless, many - such as Davidson - haven't been back to work; Love managed the apartment complex and lost his job entirely. Even given preferential treatment, the climb back toward permanent housing is daunting - starting with filling out applications through the county, which then makes determinations about whether someone is qualified for sheltered housing (limit two months), transitional housing (limit two years) or permanent supportive housing.

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"There is so much we have to get taken care of, so many places to go and things to get done," Love said.

Calie Dorin, mother to an 8-year-old son, signed a new lease last week, moving in with her boyfriend.

"We ended up being very lucky I would say," said Dorin, a restaurant server who is set to return to work this week. "Most people I've spoken with are staying with family."

Davidson said her parents are very supportive, but an attempt to move home with them didn't work for any of them. So, she moved into the camper with Love while her son stays with his dad.

Love, who is gay, said he's known Davidson's father for 30 years - though he met Davidson only when she signed her lease just days before the fire. They've known one another for only about 20 days now, but "we're like besties," said Davidson, explaining how they've offered each other emotional support throughout this trying time.

When they received emergency vouchers for clothing and other goods, they both bought things for children who had lost all their possessions in the fire. They both admitted to struggling to take care of themselves.

"I'm a giving person," Love said. "I'm not one to receive anything."

They both grieve their losses and find the trauma of the fire trailing them. Love tore apart his truck looking for a cell phone that burned in the fire. Davidson looked for 20 minutes for her tablet before remembering she'd lost it between her mattress and bed frame.

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"It's unreal," she said.

"Just crazy," he said.

Davidson said she was completely numb when she walked out of the burning building and hasn't been the same since the fire. She and Love listen to each other and understand things they say others cannot.

Both seem to have the resolve to forge ahead. But for now, with no permanent homes and a daunting process to find new housing, they are content to brace themselves for what's next.

"I'm not a crier," Love said.

"I don't know," Davidson said. "We've been put on waiting lists."

Related Topics: FIRES
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