First-person lobbyist for affordable housing


In my early 20s I became homeless after a series of cataclysmic events. Before my life started to unravel I was a happy, healthy, successful student at St. Catherine University. My diligent work at SCU earned me a place in the Antonian Scholar’s Honors Society, a Billie Rhodes Spellman all campus Leadership Award, and academic merit scholarships. I was becoming a confident and capable young woman with great convictions in the tradition of so many “Katies” before me.

My good fortune in being a student at a beautiful and celebrated private college and in every other aspect of my young life was turned upside down by a severe mental breakdown. My symptoms ranged from paranoia, to incoherence of thought, you name it and I experienced it. The diagnosis was an SPMI (Severe and Persistent Mental Illness), specifically bipolar disorder. My symptoms were so incapacitating that I could not continue taking classes at Saint Kate’s.

No longer enrolled in classes, I had to move out of my dorm. I lived with family, with friends, slept in parks, in shelters, and ran the gambit. The group home system was a stable alternative to unpredictability and constant fear that I lived with as a homeless young adult woman. My transition from an award-winning achiever to a ward of the state mental health system was as humiliating as you can imagine it was. I lived miserably as a shell of my former self for years until finally I qualified to move into an affordable housing complex.

Living independently gave me the feeling of normalcy I needed to begin rebuilding my life. I have lived safely and happily in an affordable housing unit for more than six years. After completing my general education courses [at Minneapolis Community and Technical College], this fall I returned to SCU as an evening and weekend student. I am a junior on course to graduate in spring of 2015 with a BS in communications studies. I plan to apply to MBA programs to study finance and economics so that I can help poor and disenfranchised members of society help themselves out of poverty through education, savings and investments. Some of what I have accomplished in reclaiming my life is attributable to my determination and my willingness to work at gaining after I lost so much, but, almost everything I have succeeded in doing was possible because I did have a safe and affordable place to live in. Affordable housing gave me a foundation for transformation in my life.

Shannon Houska is a Beacon tenant who has spoken about her experience with homelessness and supportive housing. Published here is an excerpt of written testimony she plans to share with her state representatives and Governor Mark Dayton. She believes the state should invest $100 million this year to create and preserve affordable and supportive housing.