Darlene S. has faced challenges in housing her entire life, but things have gotten progressively harder in recent years. After experiencing two evictions, the most recent being a decade ago, she has faced mounting barriers to housing. Combined with increased rents and requirements of 3 times rent in income, renting anything became impossible. Darlene has now been unhoused since 2013. 

“Once you’ve been evicted, if you owe back rent, you can’t pay that off while you’re simultaneously trying to come up with deposits and rent for a new place. Most people don’t have the bandwidth to do that, so that leaves you, nowhere.”

She is thankful that she has always managed to find a place to land, either couch surfing with friends, doing in-home care that included a place to stay, or at a shelter. Currently staying at a women’s shelter in Springfield, MO, the shelter environment is only adding to her stress:

“I call it Groundhog Day. Every day you wake up exhausted to start the day off. Sleeping on a cot is definitely not the best rest I’ve ever had. Then most of us don’t have cars, so we wait for the bus to find a place to be all day with all of our stuff. It marks you, it tags you as homeless.”

Darlene is a member of Springfield Tenants Unite, working to fight for affordable housing and tenants rights in the Springfield area. Between the shelter where she is staying and her work with STUN, she’s talked to so many people facing different housing challenges – rising rents, landlords who refuse to maintain the home, or an inability to meet the income requirements of three times the monthly rent at most units. But she knows they’re all a part of the same problem – a lack of affordable housing. And while she’s happy to see places where her hometown is improving and developing, she doesn’t hold out much hope that new developments will include enough affordable housing.

“It’s a hard thing to watch, we want to see it improve, but when new housing is developed, it’s too costly for the working class, elderly or disabled. There’s a lot of people in my world that are in the same boat. If they had a place they could rent for $300-500 every month, they could handle that, but they can’t do $600 or $900. And that’s where we’re at, there just isn’t anything available that we can afford.”

Darlene still has hope for solutions to the affordable housing crisis – and improvements in her own situation. But creating more income based, low/no barrier housing is the first step, both for the community, and for herself. Staying in a shelter, or even having to move every year to afford rent, affects so much of your life. It can affect your ability to hold a job, your access to transportation, your ability to seek healthcare. She hopes to go back to school and finish her degree, but before she can commit to that, she needs stable housing.

“I’m looking for something that would allow me to exist without all my income going to rent.”

1 Response
  1. Darlene Steele

    Gosh it seems like a lifetime ago I did this interview. I’m glad that the phrase “income based, low/no barrier” housing was included because I still believe that is the key to making sure everyone has access to housing that doesn’t exceed their income and allows them to not only exist but to grow and thrive. Access to housing is really the basis for individual success and for building a healthy community. Thank you to Empower MO for the work you do to improve housing in MO.

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