[Hpn] Sacramento CA -- Couple risks eviction by giving refuge to homeless friends and their baby

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Mon, 29 Oct 2001 09:54:37 -0800


http://www.sacbee.com:80/news/news/local03_20011029.html

Couple put home on line to aid family: They risk eviction by giving refuge
to homeless friends and their baby

By Blair Anthony Robertson
Bee Staff Writer 
(Published Oct. 29, 2001)

Elizabeth Sudweeks and her husband, Kenneth Broughton, thought they were
doing the right thing. A family they knew had been struggling, so much so
that they ended up homeless, sleeping for nights on end in a 1977 Dodge
truck -- mom, dad and their 14-month-old baby.

At Broughton and Sudweeks' insistence, the family came to live with them at
their upscale two-bedroom apartment in the Pocket area of Sacramento.

But that gesture of compassion could leave the married couple as homeless as
the family they were trying to help.

Once the apartment management got wind of the arrangement, the couple say
they were told they could face eviction if the guests stayed longer than the
three days allowed in the lease.

"They were in dire straits. They were out on the streets, and we can't let
that happen," said Sudweeks, 32, an accounts receivable manager who also
sells Mary Kay cosmetics. Broughton is an administrator at an adult-care
facility.

Sudweeks and her husband say they are willing to chance eviction, insisting
that an infant should be safe and healthy and under roof, that they will do
whatever it takes to make that happen. They also say it simply seems wrong
to be punished for helping the needy.

"I hear this a lot," said Angeline Fitzpatrick, co-director of Maryhouse, a
daytime shelter for homeless women and children at the Loaves & Fishes
compound on the outskirts of downtown. "I think it's completely heartless.
It's sad when you see people doing something out of kindness and they are
reprimanded for it."

Fitzpatrick and other advocates for the homeless say the ordeal Sudweeks and
Broughton are facing is a common but often overlooked part of homelessness.
And it comes as the homeless population remains a stubborn and seemingly
intractable problem for area lawmakers and outreach agencies.

Maryhouse, for example, has seen 80 children at its breakfasts recently,
compared to the normal 45. Other shelters report long waiting lists.

The scenario for the family in the Pocket underscores a similar theme for
many homeless: A series of bad decisions and bad breaks leaves them out on
the street; their credit rating is damaged and they begin to get turned down
by other landlords even if they have money; they go to stay with family or
friends until a landlord finds out and enforces the lease; they are forced
to hide in the apartment or move on; they feel ostracized and humiliated,
and their options are few; their disconnect from mainstream living is all
but complete.

Landlords say it is unfair to criticize them as unfeeling. They argue that
they have a large investment that must be protected and leases must be
strictly enforced.

"Every landlord has probably been burned," said Jim Lofgren, executive
director of the Rental Housing Association of Sacramento Valley, which
represents about 75,000 rental units. "We counsel them to follow the letter
of the law because it protects them, the residents and residents of adjacent
properties."

For the homeless family in the Pocket -- Teri Stinson, 33, and Walter
Stacey, 22, and their baby, Alex -- the ordeal has left them with few
options. Both adults receive combined monthly government disability checks
of $1,800 (Stinson has bipolar disorder; Stacey has a learning disability).
But when their rental duplex was sold in January, their lives began to
collapse. They moved into a nearby apartment but were evicted when their
government checks were late and they failed to pay on time.

Because both had bad credit that left them unwelcome at most apartments,
they took their baby and stayed in seedy motels, paying up to $1,000 a
month. When the money ran dry, they moved to a campground near Folsom Lake.
Even then, luck was not on their side -- their air mattress went flat.

By late August, they were living in the truck, moving every two hours in the
night as police and shop owners shooed them away. Recently, that truck -- a
24-year-old Dodge Powerwagon they bought for $1,000 -- "blew a rod" in the
engine and stopped running.

When Sudweeks and Broughton took them in, it was a relief. Teri Stinson has
known Broughton for 20 years. Only when Stacey reverted to old survival
habits -- residents spied him in the apartment complex Dumpster looking for
cans -- did management take notice and tell them they couldn't stay. Stinson
and Stacey felt they had to hide.

"We never came out of the apartment," Stinson said.

Veronica Ascencio, the resident manager at The Landing at Riverlake, says
Sudweeks and Broughton had not been given an eviction notice. She said she
was under the impression the issue was resolved, and that the homeless
family was no longer living there.

Sudweeks and Broughton say they were told "we would be invited to leave" if
the family stayed there. The Landing is a 145-unit complex where rents range
from $865 to $1,250 a month.

"My position," Sudweeks said, "is that nobody can tell me who can visit my
house. These people need to have a place that feels like a home. They can't
get that in a motel."

In this case, the law gives landlords plenty of power to crack down on
long-term guests.

"If you look at it from a legal point of view, what the resident manager did
was correct," said Kathleen Friedrich, a clinical professor at McGeorge
School of Law who specializes in landlord/tenant work. The professor said
that if landlords don't carefully screen residents and monitor who is living
in their apartments "they may end up having a de facto tenant relationship
they didn't intend to have."

In recent weeks, the homeless couple have put in applications for scores of
apartments. Because they are not married, they were required by some
landlords to pay separate $25 application fees. They were rejected in every
instance. Four hundred dollars later, they were as homeless as ever and even
more humiliated.

"I've given up putting in applications," Stinson said shakily. "The
landlords want to take our application money, then they tell us 'no.' I felt
like dirt."

Stinson and Stacey say they hope their bad luck will turn around, but the
future looks bleak.

As for Sudweeks and Broughton, they say they will stand firm in their
attempts to help the family, no matter the consequences. That baby, they
insist, will grow up with a roof over his head.

"I don't know what I'd do without them," Stinson said of the couple as she
watched her son crawling on the living room carpet. "I can't believe they
are putting their home at risk to help us."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson can be reached at (916) 321-1099 or
brobertson@sacbee.com.

 Copyright  The Sacramento Bee

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