No Place to Call Home | Part 4: Homeward Bound
A homeless Moline mom with triplets finds shelter in public housing
MOLINE, Illinois (KWQC) - Casie Utter was about to give birth. Already a mom to two kids, she was terrified, alone, and unsure how she would cope with triplets on the way.
“When I was pregnant with the triplets, I became homeless. I was living with a friend, living out of my car.
“I got this apartment, it took eight or nine months to get this apartment, I was calling them all the time saying I’m pregnant, I’m homeless. They didn’t care.”
Just after the babies were born, the Moline Housing Authority found her an apartment in its public housing neighborhood, a former military barracks, off 41st Street.
Today, she lives in a cramped two-bedroom with her six children, all under 6.
Though the plaster is crumbling, the apartment is tidy and organized.
But there’s hardly room to walk.
“I have those three in one room, him and his older brother in another room, and this is where we sleep,” Casie said.
More than a thousand people are on a waiting list for public housing in Moline.
So, for now, Casie will have to make do.
“Shelter, which is a basic home, is the beginning of progress for our society. If we neglect that, we’re setting up for failure,” says John Afoun, the president of the Moline Housing Authority, which oversees public housing in Moline.
The units come with conditions: Tenants must be able to pay rent, have decent credit, and pass a criminal background check.
Even for tenants who meet those conditions, it’s very hard to obtain a unit. Larger apartments, like one that Casie wants, are even harder to come by. Government housing guidelines say a family of six would need a four-bedroom apartment, but there are so many on the list.
Renovating or building a unit at a time does little to address the massive demand for public housing. Instead, housing advocates are calling for systemic change that starts at home.
“The change must come from a local political level. I strongly believe that,” he said. “The cities must put efforts in ensuring there’s enough development for housing.”
Back in Casie’s apartment, the triplets play on the floor.
With no one to watch the kids, Casie has hardly left her apartment in months.
“I rarely go out because I had a car that only fits three of my kids,” she said. “I do online shopping; it gets delivered here.”
Casie lost a job because she doesn’t have childcare. Now, she relies on government benefits for the disabled triplets. She’s stuck in a cycle common in public housing – Casie wants to work but doesn’t have childcare, and she can’t get childcare because she doesn’t work.
And even if Casie did have a job and could leave public housing, she’d likely have trouble affording a larger apartment without continued assistance. She’d have to make at least $33,000 to afford essentially the same apartment – a two-bedroom – on the regular market, according to local housing analysts.
Casie doesn’t see that in her near future. For now, she’ll stay in the cycle:
“My mom stays on the Iowa side, and she works, and my stepdad works, so they’re not able to get over here very often … So it’s just me.”
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