New beginnings after a house fire


There was nothing left. 

There was nothing left of the house and belongings that once provided sweet memories, shelter and hope for Tammy and her family, who had already lived through many struggles. The house caught fire on a wintry night last March, with snow still on the ground. It was around 5 a.m., when Tammy was awakened by the sound of glass shattering as a stranger kicked through her door, shouting that the house was on fire, saving the lives of her two grandsons, herself and her dad, who was visiting at the time. They made it out just in time.

The house fire changed Tammy’s life forever. Nearly everything in the home was destroyed, but that didn’t stop her from pushing ahead and working hard to overcome the continuous challenges that lay ahead.

Before the fire, Tammy struggled financially and had faced many difficulties throughout her life. She worked various part-time jobs while caring for her two grandsons as their foster mom. 

Tammy puts others’ needs before her own and will do whatever she can to keep her grandchildren safe and healthy. When challenges arose she knew she needed to seek out help, which led her to the Neighborhood House Family Centers. There she worked with a Family Coach to get the support she needed. 

“What brought me to the Family Centers is my grandson,” she said. “He was a former student at Dayton’s Bluff Elementary and I would come in and get resources for different things like housing assistance and food.” 

Tammy was able to use the food shelf inside the Family Center. She also got signed up for other programs and was managing to get by, she says, until the house fire took away the home that she had been renting.  The fire occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic, which made finding shelter much more difficult, since Tammy and her two grandsons were now homeless. 

“Due to Covid-19, the shelters weren’t accepting a lot of people and they were already packed to their capacity to where they couldn’t really shelter anybody but put you on a waiting list,” Tammy said. “My mom was like, ‘you could come over here with me and your sister until you could find you a place to stay.’ We went there. It was very challenging.”  

Tammy and her two grandsons moved into her mother’s house, but it was not a sustainable living situation. “It was frustrating, because my mom had us all in one room. Within that household there were seven adults and five children living there.”

She explained that it was a really difficult time for her and that she just felt “stuck.” She didn’t know what to do or where to turn. 

“I was in shutdown mode to where I felt like, ‘where do I go from here?’” Tammy said. “I was kind of confused. I didn’t have any knowledge of where to start after a fire. I didn’t have renter’s insurance. Everything that I had is gone. The Red Cross did reach out and help us with $500. That was it and that was to pay for whatever we needed like clothes, shoes and small things. And that right there was like the most trying and challenging point in my life during the pandemic.”

Remembering the Family Center at Dayton’s Bluff Elementary, where she had received support in the past, she decided she would reach out again to see if they could help her. 

“I walked into the [Family Center] resource room and met Greta, a family coach, and she helped me out tremendously,” Tammy said. “The program has been tremendously helpful and beneficial to me and my family during the pandemic. Things that I didn’t have and directions that I didn’t have, they [Family Centers] could help me with. Greta was here, she helped me and guided me all the way until I was able to get my life back on point, like the way it is now.” 

Though it was a long and often painful process, Tammy and her two grandsons are now living in a spacious apartment and have income coming in. The children are in school and also have daycare services, while Tammy is in the process of finding new and secure employment and furthering her education.  

Tammy now says she refers people she knows to Neighborhood House and the Family Centers when she sees their struggles. She said she even referred another family member who needed support. 

“If you’re struggling right now, as I was some months ago, you can come here and seek resource help and get the help you need and move forward,” Tammy said. “It’s been very, very beneficial to me and my family to come here, to get us out of the rut that we were in before. Thank you!”

Neighborhood House’s five Family Centers are located at the Wellstone Center on the West Side, Sibley Manor on West 7th Street, and three schools: Dayton’s Bluff Elementary, John A. Johnson Elementary and St. Paul Music Academy, all located on the East Side of St. Paul. All five provide participants with a wide-range of services including housing support, emergency financial assistance, family coaching services and government benefits enrollment.

Our Family Center coaches work with participants in various stages of need. Many of the participants, like Tammy, are not sure where to turn. With help and support from a family coach, they learn about their options, come up with a plan and work on it together.