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“Lady With the Nails” Settles With Help From Second Chance

Categories: Email Newsletter, Housing, Homeless Aid, First Place Family Center, Self-Sufficiency, Staff Stories
Author: SVdP Staff
Date: Monday, November 26 2012
Michele Gruessing and son Jordan on their porch.

She's known as, “The lady with the nails.”

Michele Gruessing’s flamboyant fingernails distinguish her from her many co-workers at a busy south Eugene grocery store, but it’s her forthright nature that cultivates “regulars” at her checkstand. Michele has worked for the same major grocer since 2006, seemingly incredible given the transient nature of her personal life. She and her youngest son Jordan are settled at last, thanks to the opportunity afforded by St. Vincent de Paul’s Second Chance Renter Rehabilitation program.

By completing the program, Michele demonstrated her desire to repair her checkered rent history and her determination to move forward as a knowledgeable, capable housing customer. St. Vincent de Paul stands by Second Chance graduates and ensures compensation should a Second Chance graduate default on rent or cause damage.

Michele and three of her kids, ages 16, 15 and 5, became homeless in Antioch, Calif. after the landlord failed to make needed repairs, and Michele refused to pay the market-rate rent. They had visited Eugene earlier and Michele liked it, if only because, as she observed, her kids seemed calmer here. They headed north in October 2008 with their possessions in a moving truck and the assurance that Michele would have work when she arrived.

She got everything into storage, slept in the truck, and worked her first shift.

She invested her few resources in a Chevy van and got the family into St. Vinnie’s Overnight Parking Program for families. After a couple of weeks of no electricity and sick kids, they turned to First Place Family Center and the Interfaith Night Shelter.

“First Place was God’s gift at that point,” Michele said. “My older son had walking pneumonia.”

By spring they had saved enough for an apartment, and that lasted more than a year before disharmony among neighbors led to a “mututal termination” between Michele and her landlord.

Leaving was easier than finding another place. An eviction record had followed Michele from California, effectively closing the door on many housing possibilities.

Michele had started the Second Chance program while staying at First Place. Back to living in an RV, she tackled it with determination, retaking some classes and doubling up on others. Topics include landlord-tenant laws, household finance, moneysaving tips and recycling, and home maintenance among others in the eight-week course.

“Second Chance is a commitment,” she said. “I just made sure I had those days off.”

Michele qualified for Section 8, but her 120-day allowance almost ran out before she found a place. Second Chance helped by clearing up an old utility bill and combining grant and donation funds for a move-in deposit. The rent subsidy makes getting by on a clerk’s wages a little easier.

Michele’s comfortable apartment holds one telltale sign of a Second Chance student: A box fan that can be tilted toward the ceiling to push warm air downward. It’s a program tip for making ceiling heat more efficient.

Michele said she took away that plus something from every class. “There’s always something you’re going to learn, especially in landlord-tenant law. That changes all the time.”

Beyond that, a person just has to get it done, like she did, and like she does every day at her grocery-store job.

“My customers will wait in a long line because I’m me,” she said. “I see something that needs to be done, and I just get it done.”