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Home : About Us : Archives

Success Story Archives

Homeless While Waiting for Justice

Homeless no more: April Homesly sits on the steps of her new home in Madison with her daughter Janikqua, left, and son Marcell.

She called them “pallets,” and for weeks they were all April Homesly and her five children had to sleep on.

“Really they were towels, sheets and a couple of blankets,” Homesly recalls. “I tried to fix it up as nice for them as I could.” They all slept on the floor in her mother’s apartment, Homesly's children in the room of a child already living there and Homesly herself in the living room.

A judge later ruled Homesly never should have lost her benefits. But even with help from Legal Action of Wisconsin, it took more than a month to sort out the legalities and find the family a new place.

Without Legal Action's help, the family might still be homeless.

A Leak in the Ground?

Homesly and her children were evicted from their apartment in Madison after they stopped receiving assistance from the public housing program known as “Section 8,” which helped the family pay their rent.

Homesly's Section 8 payments were taken away after she was sued by a former landlord, who claimed she owed more than $1,400 for an unpaid water bill and property damage. Homesly disputes the amount she owed the landlord. She says a leaking pipe in the ground was the reason her water bill suddenly ballooned to more than $800.

She also says she didn’t even know she was being sued until she got a letter telling her the case already had been heard in court, and that she had lost by default because she hadn’t shown up. Nevertheless, she started making regular payments on the debt to her former landlord.

The payments ended when Homesly lost her job. Homesly says she made a deal with the landlord to stop paying while she was unemployed. But soon she got a letter saying her Section 8 benefits were being terminated because of the past-due debt. Without Section 8, Homesly couldn't afford rent payments anywhere. She ended up being evicted. “I lost half of my possessions, furniture, clothing, everything,” she says. “I had no place to bring them.”

The floor of her mother’s apartment in nearby Middleton “was the only place for us to go,” Homesly says. “There really was no room at all." She tried to keep her children, who range in age from 3 to 15, “outside and going to places, so they’d only have to come in to eat, shower and sleep.”

Trying to fix the situation herself, Homesly went to one hearing, where she lost. A supervisior with the Section 8 program, she recalls, suggested she get a lawyer.

“Being Punished for Being Poor”

Homesly contacted Legal Action of Wisconsin just before her appeal deadline on the lost hearing. “I jumped right in, because it seemed really unfair,” Legal Action attorney Katherine Alft says.

Homesly, she felt, “was being punished for being poor.”

Alft handled Homesly's appeal, and a circuit court judge ruled that Homesly’s Section 8 assistance had been improperly terminated and should immediately be restored.

But it was still several weeks before Homesly was able to find a new place to rent that would accept her Section 8 payments. 

The Option to Fight

Homesly’s family is just beginning to settle into its new place, a three-bedroom duplex on a quiet street just south of Madison’s Beltline Highway. Her boyfriend scrubs and mops the kitchen and dining room floors as Homesly smiles and points toward the front windows of the living room, and the small front yard beyond. “We didn’t have this before,” she says. “My kids can play in the front yard, where I can keep an eye on them.”

A single mother, Homesly is supposed to be receiving child support, and also receives some medical assistance for herself and her children. She’s studying criminal justice at a local technical school, and proudly displays a certificate certifying that she's passing with high honors. She dreams of perhaps being a private investigator someday. “And I want a place of my own,” she adds. “We’ll get there. We just have to take it one step at a time.”

Homesly thanks Alft and Legal Action for helping her overcome her Section 8 problems, and she urges others who feel they’ve been treated unjustly to fight. “A lot of people I know, they get that official letter in the mail and they just give up,” she says. “They don’t know they have the option to fight.”