Last year, KRCU brought you the four part homeless youth series “Living in the Shadows.” At the time, two of Cape Girardeau counties biggest school districts had more than 400 identifiable homeless youth.
We shared the story of one of them. Her name was Joanne. She’s fifteen now, but nearly eight months ago her life was anything but normal.
“I was a little in a way kind of shocked [and] surprised,” Joanne said. “Like I’m going to live with my pastor? But at that moment I didn’t realize what kind of situation we are.”
Joanne was homeless, living with her pastor in the church’s parsonage, while her mother “Natasha” and her two younger brothers lived in Sikeston with a relative. Daily Natasha found herself driving back and forth from Sikeston to Cape Girardeau, just to keep her kids in the Cape Girardeau Public school district.
“I think I spent more gas just driving around Cape [Girardeau] with all the pickups at the drop-offs, and the ‘okay [you’re] getting fed, and making sure you're in the house,’” Natasha said. “‘And okay you're alright.’ Now I got to go to Sikeston.”
This was their life nearly eight months ago. Recently, the family moved into their new home at the church’s parsonage. They’re still unpacking and adding things, but they have the basic trimmings of a home. There’s a large comfy couch with tons of pillows that could swallow you up, a small folding table in the kitchen, and new beds too. But just getting to this point took months.
“I don't know if guilty is the right word, but very convicted that here I am a single person living in a three bedroom house, while this family needs a place to live,” said Lana their pastor.
Within a few months, she had a goal to downsize to a one bedroom apartment big enough for her and her dog. But this decision was bigger than her personal convictions. At the time, Natasha worked as a paid musician at the church, but with a shrinking budget resources to pay Natasha were drying up. So she came up with a plan.
“What does it look like to have somebody that we're responsible for in a very significant way living in the church property?,” Lana said. “And so we had to really talk about the business sense of it. The legal sense of it, without letting those concerns overwhelm.”
Lana talked it over with a church trustee and he was on board. But in exchange for living rent free in the parsonage, Natasha would no longer be paid by the church. Natasha accepted the offer. But the process of moving in wasn’t a walk in the park.
“Part of what kind of took longer for this to all unfold is that we're waiting for my apartment to get ready,” Lana said.
At first, Lana told Natasha to be ready by August.
“[Then] a September get ready,” Lana said. “To an October it's going to be ready. And I ended up not moving until the beginning of November.”
All that time, Natasha was waiting. Remember, she was still driving back and forth everyday from Sikeston to Cape Girardeau. By this time, Joanne had moved out of the parsonage and started living with another church member, and that’s partially because Lana’s schedule became hectic and Joanne was basically home alone most of the time.
“It was somewhat [of a] struggle and battle,” Natasha said. “And sometimes I felt like giving up and saying forget it, we're just going to go to my mom's and we're going to start a new life in Sikeston.”
Eventually, she hit her breaking point.
“It was probably about 6:30 [or] 7:00 in the morning when she called in tears,” Lana said. “You know like ‘I don't know how much longer we can do this.’ It's just it's a struggle. You know they were driving back and forth from Sikeston. It was hard and it's hard to watch that pain and not be able to fix it.”
Fortunately, those months of waiting paid off.
“Is this really happening?,” Natasha said. “Like it's done. I'm like really? You know like we'll all like me and my kids we're all going to be there? Together? That's all I really wanted.”
Which brings us back to Joanne. Natasha had yet to break the news to her.
“When I was able to finally let her know like okay this is your room like we're moving in here,” Natasha said. “This is going to be your room. And she was just--the look that she was making I was like are you hearing me? Like listen. Like for real this time. We're moving in here.”
“For real this time.” Four words Joanne had heard many times before. Still, she stood there stunned. Her face was emotionless and she was conflicted about her own feelings.
“It was just a shock to me, because living that way for like so long and finally hearing that you're going to have a home,” Joanne said. “I don't know it was just--it was a weird moment for me.”
On one hand she was happy that after all this time she and her family would all be together under one roof, but she still had this lingering feeling of frustration.
“I'm like why did it take us so long for us to get here,” Joanne said. “But you know I was happy. I was still confused and I was still worried, because I'm like even though we'll be here for a year. I'm like well what happens after that?”
Joanne has a point. Based on their church’s policy, pastors could potentially be reassigned to lead a different church each year. Since the parsonage is technically where the pastor lives, if Lana was ever reassigned to another church their current living arrangement could change. Lana said while it’s not a permanent fix, the goal was to create stability--starting with housing.
“Then what I do is help her map out a plan to reach that goal and connect her with the resources that are needed to reach that goal,” Lana said.
Natasha has full-time job as a preschool teacher, reliable transportation and plans to go back to school. And for once, Joanne can be a normal teenager. She said singing and acting helped her cope with being homeless.
“It's fun being like a whole different person,” Joanne said. “So during the whole time of not having a home being homeless and during the whole time of acting it made me feel like I was in a different world. It didn't make me think of all the struggles that I had that no one else knew about.”
But she said for those who are going through this same thing it’s important to speak up.
“It's okay to sometimes breakdown and cry a little bit you know and tell how you're feeling, because you can't keep all of that inside,” Joanne said. “Because the more you keep it inside, the harder it's going to feel for you.”
For the next 12 months Joanne and her family have a guaranteed place to live together.