Shelter for women and children bursting

By Jason Warick, The StarPhoenix December 9, 2013 - A mother changes a crying baby in one room. In another, several women rest on their bunk beds. In the dining room, two moms and several kids enjoy some fruit.

It was crowded for the 37 residents of Mumford House, a Salvation Army shelter, but everyone knows they're lucky to be there on this frigid Saturday afternoon.

"It's very good here. They help you a lot. This place is clean, and it's safe for us," said Michelle Lavallee, who's been living there with her four daughters.

Mumford co-ordinator Caroleen Wright said the converted duplex has been full almost from the time it opened in 2010. In the staff office adjacent to the dining room, a white board is filled with names of women and children coming and going from the transitional facility.

"The people here are really resilient. If we can help them on their journey, it's all worth it," she said.

The women - some single, some with kids - need shelter from abusers or because of mental health and addiction problems. For Lavallee and an increasing number of families jammed into shelters across the city, however, they simply can't afford to find a place to live in Saskatoon.

Lavallee "is really trying. We've watched her and she's trying hard," Wright said.

Lavallee, a single mother, earned her high school diploma recently. She completed one year of business administration at the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology, but dropped out before finishing because she was unable to secure another student loan.

She's now employed full time at a coffee shop earning minimum wage. She said it's important to show her kids the value of work. However, loan payments and caring for her children leave her with little money for housing.

Lavallee said she'd found the main floor of a house to rent a few days earlier. The deal fell through when she was unable to come up with the $1,300 damage deposit, as well as the $1,300 first month's rent, in advance.

"Things are so expensive. It's insane," she said. "I feel like I'm trying so hard and I'm getting nowhere. I want to get somewhere for my kids."

Wright said they've had to relax Mumford's 30-day maximum stay rule at times when another placement is not available. The longer someone is without a home - particularly in frigid weather and as Christmas approaches - the higher the stress levels, she said.

Residents are patient with each other, but it can be difficult to cope with one kitchen and three bathrooms for 37 people.

"It's a lot of people for one space. We're just trying to work it out," Wright said. "The options are pretty limited."

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