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A fall fueled by economy, fate

Given today's economy, it doesn't take a great leap from your own life to understand how she became homeless.

Lose a paycheck, get sick, and it can all come crashing down. The North Shore knows its booms and busts through the railroad, mining, and tourism industries.

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to sit across from a woman who was willing to tell me the story of how she became homeless in Lake County.

"It's hard to admit you're homeless," she said. "It humbles you."

She comes from a middle class upbringing. She graduated from college, made good money in the Twin Cities area, and then decided to start a business here. She bought a home four years ago, at the crest of a market soon to crash. "Yeah, a big house."

It's the economy that got her at first. Then, "it just snowballed."

Business slowed and she got late on house payments. She had to have surgery on a knee. It was discovered she had a chronic health condition. The sewer line broke at the house. Her mother died. She got depressed.

She and her boyfriend were foreclosed on.

They "squatted" in the house for about four months without utilities. No electricity. No water. Reading by candlelight. Cooking on an outdoor grill. They went to a campground for showers. Got water at the store. "It was pretty much condemned," she said. "We were camping in our house."

With winter looming last year, she knew she had to do something.

She got temporary help at a home in Duluth and then was told to try North Shore Horizons. North Shore offers temporary housing, up to two years, for people in her situation. It's a place to land when everything is falling.

This month marks a year there for her. She's still looking for an affordable place in Lake County. It's important to her. She is using her free time to help others in the county going through similar situations. She's going back to school to become a paralegal and more formally help the poor. "Why not give back."

She knows people who need help are here as they are everywhere. "You just don't see them sleeping in the streets or in Dumpsters," she said. Here, it's harder to detect those in need, be it pride in a small community or, conversely, the help they find here.

She said it's refreshing to see more than Band-Aid work being done. Programs are evolving.

She isn't out of the woods. She's still looking for that place to rent. For that job security. She does know that she's been "blazing through hell and I am finally getting out of it."

It's the hell of losing it all, of worrying about the next hour of survival, not the next day or year. "I deal with right now."

Someday, someone in dire straits will sit down at a desk in Lake County. Across from them will be this woman. A woman who can help because she's been there.

"You don't know when it's going to happen. And, believe me, it can happen to anyone."

Mike is the editor of the News-Chronicle. He can be reached at 834-2141 or by email at