A roof over your head doesn’t seem like much to ask for, but some St. Louisans face homelessness everyday. Here are two stories of how local organizations provided help at critical times.
The Ndagijimana Family, HABITAT FOR HUMANITY SAINT LOUIS
With millions of people killed since the Second Congo War began in 1998 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Boniface and Brigitte Ndagijimana were lucky to escape their home country. Now they look forward to starting a new chapter of their lives as recipients of a new home from Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis. “We’re so excited to move into our very own place,” Brigitte says.
After stays in a Tanzania refugee camp where the now-married couple dated, Boniface and Brigitte came separately to the U.S. in 2007—she to Colorado and he to St. Louis. With help from the Congo embassy, the pair reconnected and Brigitte moved here in 2008.
The transition to America was not without difficulties, communication being at the forefront. While the two speak Swahili, French and Kirundi, it was their first foray into speaking English. Their first apartment was in a bad neighborhood and was filled with lead. After discovering that their second—and current— apartment had the same lead problems, the couple sought out a solution. “We heard about Habitat from friends in other states, so we looked online to see if the organization was here, too,” Brigitte explains.
After a thorough application and qualification process, the Ndagijimanas were chosen by the St. Louis chapter to become new homeowners. With 700 sweat equity hours required between the two, the couple has worked hard to fulfill the requirements, taking satisfaction in helping to build their Cardondelet-area home and learning along the way. “I now know things I didn’t before, and if something breaks, I can fix it on my own,” Boniface notes.
Brigitte currently is in nursing school while she works at a local nursing home, and Boniface is a floor technician applying for positions at several area nursing homes. While the couple—parents of two young daughters, Benita and Bella—understands the challenges of homeownership and mortgage payments, they are grateful for the opportunity Habitat has provided. “If I look at our income and buying a house through the bank, it wouldn’t be possible. This program helps a lot of people,” Brigitte says.
And for Boniface, the Oct. 15 move-in date couldn’t come soon enough. “I’m counting down the days.”
Aaron Laxton, DOORWAYS
Aaron Laxton had a decent computer engineering job, insurance and a house to call his own. It was a pretty good life, but one that was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with HIV on June 6, 2011. Still reeling from the diagnosis, Laxton lost his job while on sick leave. Unemployment benefits didn’t stretch very far, and costs started piling up. “I was still trying to carry a house payment, insurance and other bills, and eventually it got to be too much,” he says.
Laxton always had been self-sufficient, but when he faced the prospect of his utilities being turned off, he realized he needed to seek some help. Doorways was able to provide that assistance. An interfaith nonprofit, Doorways provides housing and other support services to people affected by HIV and AIDS in Missouri and Illinois. “A lot of times, it’s hard for a person living with HIV or AIDS just to navigate the system,” Laxton explains. “They’re not only dealing with their health, but also issues of poverty and the stigma—everything is compounded.”
With a simpler system to navigate, Laxton was able to receive support right away at Doorways. The organization helped him form a budget and provided utility assistance, allowing him to stay in his house longer. “They give you the expectations upfront and if you meet those expectations, they can help you out a lot.”
Unfortunately, Laxton was unable to keep his home, but moved in with his partner in June. Although it is not the ideal situation, he has a positive attitude as he continues to look for a new job while dedicating himself to his work as an international HIV/AIDS activist and sharing his story on YouTube. “Everything happens for a reason. I know if I needed help again, Doorways would be there.”