KALAMAZOO, MI — Living in Florida at the time, Norwida Sweder lost her job and three months later her home.
“I went into a pretty deep depression, to the point where there was stuff all over my house. I really didn’t care about anything,” she said of her life in February 2021. “I didn’t know how to handle anything. At that point it became overwhelming.
After spending the summer of 2021 homeless in Florida, Sweder moved north to Kalamazoo. Although she was able to find help for her mental health through Kalamazoo’s integrated services and be closer to her family again, she spent the first year and more in the area living on the streets and enjoying the community shelter system.
Related: LodgeHouse offers new permanent housing solution for homeless Kalamazoo
It wasn’t until October, when she became one of the first residents to move into the new LodgeHouse in the city’s Vine district, that she had a place of her own where she could keep her belongings. .
“It’s been really good,” she said on a cold Friday morning in early December, from inside her warm apartment – one of 60 fully furnished energy-efficient units at the newly renovated motel. “It’s just different, cooking for myself, organizing my schedule, sitting around watching TV, staying out of the elements. It was really nice, the snow we had a few weeks ago when it was so heavy I just couldn’t imagine being in there.
Last winter, at this time, this is exactly where the 44-year-old Swede was.
“It’s not a rehearsal,” she said. “Thank God it’s not a rehearsal.”
Sweder, who has been left alone while living on the streets out of fear for her safety, said it was hard to know that so many people still live in the elements in the area.
“It’s hard, believe me,” she said. “It’s hard not to feel for them, but the only thing I can do is pray that we do the right thing and someone else has a heart to do something like this in a other space.”
The low-barrier affordable housing complex that Sweder calls home was once a Knights Inn. Located at 1211 S. Westnedge Ave., the building was purchased for $1.5 million by the LIFT Foundation in January 2021 with the goal of creating affordable, permanent housing for Category 1 homeless people.
The $7.5 million renovation project was made possible through donations from many community partners, as well as local government grants.
Rent, at $600 a month, is $132 below fair market value and includes utilities, laundry access and parking. While all of the original tenants who moved in were Category 1 homeless, rent is being made affordable for low-income or no-income tenants as the foundation’s Helpline team assists tenants with housing applications. preference vouchers for the homeless, rental assistance vouchers and/or permanent ISK support. housing vouchers,” Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson told MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette.
For the first four months after the foundation purchased the building, it served as a temporary shelter for many people who were living in encampments that winter. In May 2021, construction began to transform the run-down old motel into what is now a clean, comfortable home for those who were recently homeless.
Related: Homeless people will be given priority in housing applications at Kalamazoo’s new LodgeHouse facility
With a property manager on site, as well as staff from ISK’s risk reduction team, Sweder said not only do residents feel safe and welcomed, but there is a strong sense of community and a pride in ownership.
“I think we’ve all been homeless and haven’t had our own home for so long that we want to keep it nice,” she said. “With the property manager on site as well, if they see something that they think is going to get out of control we will have notes on the doors, they communicate very well with us.”
As Sweder navigated the depths of her depression, she said the presence of ISK personnel there helped bring a sense of stability, not just to her, but to others.
“It’s much easier,” she says. “It’s not, ‘I’m going through this and I’m going through all this other stuff too, like I don’t have a place to stay, I don’t know where I’m going to sleep tonight, I don’t ‘know not if I’ll be safe.’ You don’t have that included with mental issues.
Now, she says, she can just focus on her sanity as she strives to pull herself together more than she ever has before.
“It feels like people are available here for you,” she said. “ISK has an office here and they are always available to talk to us. We have little community meetings, things like that, to get together, to make sure everyone is okay. I think people do the right things; we remain involved with ISK.
Sweder, who has a part-time job as a cleaner, said she has seen many other people who, like her, were not employed when they moved in but have since started working .
She said when she first arrived in Kalamazoo in August 2021, she never thought she would stay. Instead, she told herself she would get a job for a while and move back to Florida after she had some money.
But that’s when she started seeing ISK signs in the community — signs that said things like “It’s okay to feel unwell” and “When normal doesn’t feel right.” It’s not normal, call this number,” she said.
“I think God just said to me, ‘Seek mental health help, call this number and make a change, so you can make a change for the good that’s going to be long term and stop going through the same cycle,” she said. “I made the decision to call the number and have worked with ISK ever since, very closely.”
As her life is on the rise, if there was one thing she wanted people to think about when meeting those who are struggling or who don’t have a home, it’s “it could happen to anyone”.
“I see Loaves and Fishes vans,” she said. “They go to a lot of different neighborhoods. Lots of people need help. Many people go through life and get by until they can’t take it anymore.
That’s what Sweder says happened to him.
“I had been working since I was 16,” she says. “I never thought I’d be at a point where mentally I couldn’t handle it, but it happens. When I think about it, all the jobs I’ve had, all the different interactions I’ve had with people, me not really being able to keep friends, things like that, anxiety issues, it’s always been there, but my deal has always been, I’ll do this until I don’t. can more.
“It happened at 43, it became too much. I knew I needed help. Because I don’t want to get to my 45th birthday, my 50th birthday and go through the same thing.
In addition to offering on-site mental health assistance and helping to create a sense of community, Sweder said LodgeHouse staff also help with trips to the grocery store, and she would soon begin taking a six-week cooking course there.
For more information about the LIFT Foundation and the LodgeHouse project, visit theliftfoundation.org.
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