Post by Jessica Hunt
Denise Sumpter is the type of person who gives truth to the idea that you can’t always spot people dealing with homelessness or alcohol addiction.
Denise herself wasn’t able to identify she had a problem with alcohol until 2001, when she was confronted with her drinking habit and a felony charge. She had been driving under the influence. Her son, who was 14 at the time, was also in the car.
“I am blessed it didn’t happen a second sooner…that he (her son) didn’t get killed,” she said. “I lived with a lot of shame about the whole thing.”
A motorcyclist was injured in the accident and Denise was charged with a felony because of the injury. She served 45 days under house arrest and another 10 on work release. The felony was reduced to a misdemeanor in 2004, but the incident helped put her on a downward spiral that ended in treatment for alcoholism.
After drifting from place to place, Denise and her boyfriend came to Minneapolis in 2009. Alcoholism was still a challenge and Denise eventually returned to treatment.
Since treatment, Denise has been able to find jobs readily and is now working as a telemarketer, but housing was a constant struggle. For most of 2011, Denise has been homeless. Thus, she is working with several agencies trying to find housing.
While she has found agencies that can help with financial requirements such as deposits and rental subsidies, Denise noted that few are able to address the root cause of her challenges in finding an apartment – her criminal record.
When a third party does the background checks, “you can’t ask them questions, you can’t explain, you can’t talk to anybody,” she said.
Denise explained that she and her boyfriend were turned down twice, despite having her charges reduced.
“I don’t know what happened, but we didn’t get the apartment,” she said.
After months of effort, Denise signed a lease on an apartment this November, and she is optimistic about life in her new home.
In addition to finding housing, Denise is setting up her relapse prevention program and just “functioning as a normal person again and not drinking,” she said.
Denise has sought out many community resources for help, including Amicus Reconnect, where she found resources such as help with transportation and housing leads.
Occasionally, Denise has helped open a few eyes about what homelessness really looks like. While attending a women’s group at a local church, Denise met a nursing student who asked her to speak to a group of nurses about her experience with homelessness.
“I don’t think I’m typical…if you look at me or talk to me,” Denise said, adding that few people would guess that she has been homeless for a year.
“I think people paint a picture of what’s it’s like to be homeless, and that’s the drunk on the street,” she said. “It isn’t an instant thing, it isn’t like one day you wake up and you’re homeless. It’s always gradual.”
When her life allows her the opportunity, Denise hopes to volunteer at Amicus or another organization that helps people find homes.
“I found the best way, if I want to get into this work, is to volunteer where my passion lies,” she said. “For some reason, it’s housing… maybe because I’m going through it. Maybe because I see holes in the system and injustice,” she said. “I see so many people struggling to figure out how to do it.”
This is why she feels obligated to share her story.
“I wish I wouldn’t have had to find out the hard way,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do because I wasn’t educated… it’s only because I had to live through it first,” she said.
Though the road is uncertain, Denise is beginning to see brighter times ahead.
“It’s harder to give up than to keep going,” she said. “I just want some stability.”