St. Paul family without an accessible home after nonprofit's failed promise
ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - For the second time, a north St. Paul family is left looking for a handicap-accessible home that will fit their unique situation as their children, battling a rare disease, struggle to get around.
It comes after their first home, promised to them by a Twin Cities nonprofit, never got one. The saga has been playing out for over a year and a half.
The Wahlstrom family had been in talks with Journey Home Minnesota, a nonprofit that was supposed to be building that handicap accessible home for them. The work was stop and go, and the house never became a reality. Now, the family has to start the process all over again.
The Wahlstroms never know what each day might bring. Often it’s singing or a tea party.
“I have two kids: Lydia and Drew,” said Laura Wahlstrom. “Lydia will be 15 next month and Drew is 11.”
While there is lots of love, there are also struggles.
“Both my children have a rare and terminal disease,” she added. “It’s a neurological disease called Batten disease.”
Laura and Todd Wahlstrom say the diagnoses came right before each child started kindergarten. They describe the disease as similar to ALS, and it progressively gets worse.
“There’s a lot of grieving through the whole process,” said Todd.
Both children are blind, and speaking can be difficult for them. It’s also hard to get around.
“Right now, we will push her around in a walker or help carry her or she will crawl,” said Laura.
Space is limited and they need a new home. They started that search a few years ago.
In the fall of 2017, someone at church connected them with a local nonprofit.
“Journey Home heard our story and wanted to help,” said Laura.
The organization, run by former Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman, provided affordable rents to veterans and families in need.
“It seemed like a really good partnership, to work with somebody who had remodeled homes before and helped other people in need,” said Todd.
Journey Home bought a house in Maplewood, tore it down, and had plans to rebuild a handicap-accessible home. The plan was for the Wahlstroms to purchase it at a reduced cost. It was supposed to be ready by this spring, but things were moving slowly.
“Red flags are going off a little like, is this the way it should be? Is it right? The leader, Blake, was like, ‘We’re still going to do this. We’re moving ahead. We’re making things happen,'” recalled Todd.
But, it didn’t happen. The home wasn’t done after a year and a half. It still sits unfinished in Maplewood.
“There was a lot of hope to what that end result was going to be and the timeline to that end result and to just have that just be gone is devastating,” Todd said.
The family said they met with Huffman in early spring to talk about ending the partnership. That’s when they found out he had news of his own.
“Then, of course, he told us he was closing down as well,” Todd said.
All the donations to Journey Home for their dream home were gone. The Wahlstroms say it was tens of thousands of dollars. Now, the Wahlstroms are looking for a handicap accessible home for the second time.
“How does somebody get to this point and how can someone do that and allow that to happen to another family?” Todd asked. “A family in need. It’s unthinkable.”
According to documents FOX 9 obtained from the Secretary of State’s Office, Journey Home Minnesota was involuntarily dissolved in March, but is now up and running again as a nonprofit as of May 23.
Huffman is still listed as President. He resigned from his position as a Ramsey County Commissioner earlier this month after initial findings from an investigation revealed conflicts of interest for two Journey Home Minnesota properties that had received federal housing money.
The county confirmed that the investigation continues.
Huffman and other family members connected to the nonprofit did not respond to FOX 9.
Meanwhile, the Wahlstrom family says they have filed a complaint with the AG’s office and sent a letter to Journey Home Minnesota asking for their donations back. They are also looking into possible legal action.
To help the Wahlstrom family, visit their GoFundMe page.