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How A Housing Program Is Helping One Louisville Woman Find Stability

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The ability to stitch a straight seam didn't come easily when April Daugherty first sat down at a sewing machine.

"It took me all day," she said.

That was months ago. Now, she's a seasoned seamstress, churning out pillows, skirts and blazers for her two young daughters.

Daugherty, 34, has plans to start her own children's clothing business. She's got a name picked out, business cards on the way and an Etsy page in the works.

It's a goal that seemed far out of reach not that long ago, she said.

Daugherty suffers from schizoaffective disorder. About four years ago, she ended up in the hospital for a month. During that time, she lost her job. And as a result, she soon found herself homeless.

Daugherty bounced from friends' houses to shelter beds for the next few years. When she discovered she was pregnant with her second daughter, she knew things needed to change.

"I was bringing her into my situation, so it's my responsibility to fix that," she said.

Daugherty quickly began looking for something more stable. She sought transitional housing at shelters across the city but struggled to find a space.

Then, as she made plans to spend the night in a hospital waiting room, Daugherty got a call from a Salvation Army case worker telling her she could take part in a new program that aims to help stabilize struggling families. The case worker picked her up at the hospital that night.

Since February, she's been living in a small room with her two girls at the Salvation Army transitional housing campus on Brook Street.

Her family is one of 10 taking part in the Pathway to Hope program. It looks to serve 10 more by March, said Johanna Wint, director of the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope. It goes beyond providing a place to stay, she said; it also provides much-needed social support, too.

For Daughtery, that means help learning how to cope with her schizoaffective disorder. It also led to a job at a fabric store, where she earned enough money to buy a sewing machine. She's also been connected with business-training programs to help get her company up and running.

But it was housing — even though it's transitional, which means she'll have to be out on her own within two years — has been transformative, Daugherty said. Living on the street, bouncing from bed to bed, doesn't leave time to think about the future.

"Now, I have time to work on my goals — a life plan, to rectify that position of homelessness, of poverty," she said.

More than 7,300 people in Louisville are considered homeless, accordingto the 2014 Louisville Homeless Census. And the overall poverty rate here has steadily increased since 2008, from 14.4 percent to more than 16 percent in 2014, according to U.S. Census data. That means about 124,100 people in Louisville are living below the poverty threshold, and nearly 24,000 households spend as much as 50 percent of their income on housing.

Stable housing is seen as the top priority for breaking the cycle of homelessness, said Natalie Harris, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. Programs such as Pathway to Hope, which can provide transitional housing for qualifying residents, are also seen as a tool for getting people into permanent homes, despite their often higher costs, she added.

But Harris said the city still needs more permanent, affordable housing options, because people in transitional housing need a place to go when they move on.

Daugherty dreams of that day. She can leave transitional housing before the two-year threshold, but she plans to take as much time as possible to ensure she has a solid plan.

"So we're not back in this position," Daugherty said.

She's married, and her husband is participating in a transitional housing program through St. Vincent de Paul. They want to own a home one day.

Looking back on the last few years, Daugherty said it's been a long journey. She never thought she'd be "one of those people," she said, meaning homeless. And hopeless.

With the sun streaming through the small window at the Salvation Army on a recent afternoon, she threaded her needle and set her seam. She said sewing keeps her calm. And on top of that, it's taught her a bit about life.

"If you ever get off track," she said, "... as long as you keep going, you can get back exactly where you need to be."

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Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.