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Due to a felony conviction, a former medical technician struggles to find a landlord willing to take a chance

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Jennifer Moore, KSMU
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Elsie Williams spends most nights in a Springfield shelter for women, Safe to Sleep.

Below is a Q and A between KSMU's Jennifer Moore and Springfield resident Elsie Williams, a 60-year-old former medical technician who is homeless. This interview transcript has been lighted edited for clarity.

Q: Tell me about your efforts to find housing.

A: Well, I work still. I'm not on disability or anything.

Q: Where do you work, or what do you do?

A: Well right now, I'm unemployed—but I do housekeeping, mainly. Since I got my felony case, it's harder. I was in nursing. I did nursing for 14 years. And when you hit a roadblock like that, which—I don't blame it on Missouri, it was my bad choices that caused that situation—but once you get on paper or you have been any type of trouble, it's harder to get back to that place to where you can get housing.

Q: You said you were in nursing. Were you a nurse?

A: I was a a certified medical technician when I got my felony.

Q: And your felony was drug related, you said.

A: And it was in my forties. I'd never, never been in trouble before, you know?

Q: And you said that you really kind of experimented with drug use after the death of a family member.

A: Yes. And once I went to prison, God changed me. God changed me with that. And that's why I'm able to function out here now.

Q: So as a convicted felon, you find [your criminal record] is a barrier sometimes for you to find housing. Have you signed up for housing through One Door?

A: Yes. At Safe to Sleep [women's shelter], Jessica and Robin are my case manager and my housing specialist. They are amazing and they have been awesome at helping me. It takes some work. It takes some effort. You know, I think it can be done. I have been [out of legal trouble] since 2017. I've done everything. No more violations, no more police contact, no nothing. I feel like that should count.

Q: You're staying at Safe to Sleep shelter. Tell me a little more about that for our listeners.

A: I think it's been my saving grace. It's somewhere where I can go in at night, you know, it's an overnight shelter. You can't stay there all day. It's just a bed to sleep in at night. I feel like it keeps me motivated, you know? And they're supportive, you know, they care about us. So that makes me feel better.

Q: How would having your own home, your own apartment, your own place, make your life different?

A: Oh, my God. You just can't imagine. I mean, to put my own key in my own door and just shut the world out, you know, like, go to work. It would be great, you know? I feel grateful when I'm in there at night because I know there's not a lot of cold weather shelters at night. And 32 [degrees], I mean, it's still cold out here at 48 [degrees]. And I think about people being out here, but I also know how blessed I am to think about it. I know what's going to happen. I know I'm going to get my own place eventually. But just the thought of that, having the independence of it and being able to say, 'Hey, I did this,' you know? I did this.

Q: You were mentioning some numbers there. So talking about 32, you're referring to 32 degrees. That's the temperature point at which Springfield's overnight emergency shelters open. But if it's going to be 33 degrees or warmer at night, they don't open.

A: It's cold.

Q: Is your name on a waiting list for housing somewhere? Have you signed up?

A: We have just recently done that. And I have been given some good, good feedback on that. So I might even qualify for Section 8 housing. We don't know yet, so that would be awesome.

Q: How long is the wait time? Have you been told?

A: Well, it can be up to a year. But you know, I'm thinking if I just find employment this weekend...I go out every week looking for work.

Q: Where have you been looking? Do you mind sharing?

A: Well, I go to library [to job search]. That's another thing: I've learned how to use the computer now. So I was a hillbilly on the computer, but now I'm [better]. Housing is probably the basic, basic, essential. If you can't have if you don't have that, you know, how can you do anything else?

Q: Elsie Williams, thank you very much.

A: Thank you.

As News Director, Jennifer oversees news gathering and production for KSMU-Ozarks Public Radio; in her role as Content Coordinator, she makes sure all programs on KSMU, including those produced locally, nationally, and internationally, flow seamlessly over the air. She trains the student reporters and announcers and hosts the monthly program Engaging the Community. Follow her on Twitter @jennwritesmoore.