Paying back debts to society


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The St. Francis House is a place to help people get back on their feet. But what you may not know, is that these people are also taking steps to pay their debts back to society. 

It’s a big day for Kelly Jansen. She’s been at the St. Francis House since October.  Now nearly 8 months later, it’s her last day.

“I just can’t believe how far I’ve come in just a few months,” guest, Kelly Jansen said. “When I came here I was jobless, first the whole thing started out I was in prison, I needed a place to go and I came here, I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have a job, nothing like that.”

One of the requirements for Jansen to stay at the St. Francis House is that she needed to find work.

“When I first came here they told me I had two weeks to find a job, which I did, it was actually pretty convenient, it was right down the street,” Jansen said.

For any guest here, 100 percent of their paycheck goes into an account. That money is then split. 

“50 percent of that they can’t touch, that’s their frozen money, but when they leave here they can pay for their own rent and deposit instead of going to the other resources in our community,” executive director, Julie Becker said.

While they have access to the other 50 percent, it is not spent on whatever they wish.

“That’s where they’re paying for their debts, there’s a small fee for them to stay here because once again if it’s free, then it’s a hand out instead of a hand up and so when they’re doing that, they’re all working on their debts and understanding that we have to pay these things before we incur new debt,” Becker said.

Some of those debts include paying for fines and restitution.

“Those counties are getting those funds that they can generate back into their budgets so that they are not having debt that they have to write off or unpaid debt that sits in the books,” Becker said.

Between July of 2015 and January of 2019, nearly $660,000 has been paid to counties in South Dakota. Just under $200,000 has been paid specifically to Minnehaha County.

“Our guests are hardworking, they work long hours, some have a full and part-time job,” Becker said.

Jansen said when she came here she owed $1,000.

“I got all that paid off, they helped me pay all that off, budgeting my money so I can get all that paid off and so I could save for my place,” Jansen said.

Executive director Julie Becker says it’s important to know guests are held accountable.

“When people see what our guests have paid back in debt, they’re like yeah this is something I can support and get my arms around,” Becker said. “Our community is so generous to us between the donations of food, clothing, to financial support for our daily operations, and then especially I feel like we’ve gotten great support for our homelessness to hope capital campaign to build a new building,” Becker said.

The $5.5 million facility is expected to be completed by July of next year.

“The great part of our campaign is we’re on track, brought the support beams in, hopefully we will have our flooring put in and then the lumber for the walls, phase one we’re hoping to have done by December of this year,” Becker said.

While this project is making progress, so are guests like Jansen, who is looking forward to the future.

“It’s a great program here, I can’t believe how far I’ve come since last October,” Jansen said.

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