STERLING – Aquila Pobuda says she left an abusive fiancé in early October to live in the local homeless shelter, which is near Wahl Clipper.
She left the shelter on a recent morning, moving into an apartment on Avenue I in Sterling, where her new boyfriend’s aunt lives.
The 23-year-old said she was grateful to the shelter and the Dowdy family, who moved into the Twin Cities PADS homeless shelter shortly after she did. James and Teresa Dowdy, she said, have given her confidence.
“She does have potential, when she uses her noggin,” said James, 48.
But he told her he was concerned she might not have thought through her decision to move out of the shelter. Living in someone else’s place, he said, means she could be kicked out at any time.
“Here, you have a roof over your head,” he said, “and you have food in your gut.”
They were talking shortly after dinner, which is about 7 o’clock. This week, 10 people were staying in the shelter.
The shelter, which is open October through May, usually allows the residents inside only at night, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. They must spend their days somewhere else. The mall, the hospital and the library are popular warm spots.
An exception is made on days like the last few – when the temperature falls below 10 degrees in the morning, with the wind chill factor taken into account.
At dinner, Tasha Selden, a volunteer who works at Sterling’s VeriFacts during the day, took a spaghetti casserole out of the oven. It had been prepared by a local church.
She added her own sauce to the casserole to spice it up, adding garlic, salt and Italian herbs.
Two teenage boys – both in pajama pants – waited at the counter.
“Give me a few minutes,” she told the boys.
They did, standing close by.
Most of the people sat at a formation of tables. A few talked. A TV was on.
After dinner, Aquila spoke to a reporter in a room just outside the common area. A number of partially completed jigsaw puzzles were lying on the table.
James and Teresa joined her. After a little while, Aquila left.
The couple are staying with their 16- and 19-year-old daughters and 17-year-old son. The teens attend local schools.
Teresa receives a Social Security disability check, while James delivers the Daily Gazette, a job he’s had for nearly 3 years. He tries to get to the newspaper office about 1 a.m. “if the kids get up in time.”
When it’s warm, they usually finish deliveries about 5:30 a.m. Lately, it’s taking them an extra hour.
If he got a bigger route, James said, he could stop having his kids deliver.
“It’s taken a toll on the kids,” said Teresa, 47.
“They took on the routes to help us,” James said.
Not long after they get back to the shelter, the kids leave for school. On days warmer than 10 degrees, James and Teresa must go somewhere else.
Usually, they stay in their car.
“I don’t like hanging out at the library,” James said. “I don’t like reading.”
The shelter says it sticks by its rules. It has chore lists for people to keep the building clean.
The restrooms are spotless, and the bedrooms are in good order. Six men sleep in the bunks in one room.
“They were here all day,” said Robert Enlow, a probation officer who works at the shelter. “I’m happy with the way their room looks.”
He and the volunteers expect people to tell them the truth. A few days ago, Tasha was doing an intake form for someone who wanted to move into the shelter.
Robert recognized the man’s name and did some research, finding the man had committed a crime in the 1990s that he hadn’t disclosed.
It was so cold, they let him stay – for one night.
“We are not heartless,” Tasha said.
But the man could not stay longer, at least for this season, because he didn’t tell the truth.
For other people, Robert says he has seen progress.
“I’ve never seen Aquila smile as much as she does now,” he told her as she was going to dinner.
“I feel like a different person,” she said.