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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

'A Sickening Feeling:' Pushed Closer To The Edge, A Single Mother Is Moving Out

When you don’t have a decent savings account or wiggle room in your budget, sometimes all it takes is an expense you haven’t planned for to push you over the financial edge. That’s reality for one in three North Texans, and that’s what just happened to Natalie Berquist.

The single mom living in Lewisville is one of the people we’re following in our series One Crisis Away. Natalie has a steady job, but because of a new monthly bill, she’s giving up her apartment.

When we introduced Natalie in December, she was living in a mostly empty apartment with her 4-year-old son Samuel.

After a brief layoff just over a year ago, Natalie spent eight months in transitional housing. And after moving into the apartment, she said she’d rather sink money into savings than buy a sofa.

But now, her apartment’s even emptier. That’s because she’s moving out on Jan. 26.

“It’s a very hard choice, do I put a roof over my head? Or do I have insurance and go to a shelter?” Natalie wonders.

A court agreement with Sam’s father requires Natalie to buy health insurance for their child.

Here’s what Natalie tried. First, she applied for assistance from programs like Medicaid and CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Both those applications were denied.

“It doesn’t work out, you need help those people like myself who are working, don’t get it,” she says. “I’m working, I’m productive, I’m paying taxes, I’m doing everything I’m supposed to, but still, there’s zero help.”

Then, Natalie looked into coverage under the Affordable Care Act. She, like a lot of people, had trouble with the website and her employer does offer insurance. Because she was up against an enrollment deadline at work, that’s the policy she chose. But she says the monthly premium is more than she can afford.

“That’s $400. Even lowering my apartment rent and going to the smallest apartment here was not going to work. It still left me short paying food, electric, gas and phone,” Natalie says.

And because she can’t go without any of that, in order to buy insurance, Natalie has to let her apartment go.

She applied for beds at a local shelter and was denied, but her brother agreed to let her and Samuel share a room in his house for a small, monthly rent.

“I just feel like somebody punched me in my stomach," she says. "It’s just such a sickening feeling to know that kind of like everything I had worked for and got to this point, it seems like it has gone down the drain."

Natalie is happy she’ll be able to save money by bunking with her brother, but she’s worried moving for the second time in less than a year will be hard on her little guy.

“I’m grateful I don’t have to go back to the shelter I guess, that’s been very tough for Samuel, he doesn’t understand that,” she worries. “Why are we losing our house? I mean he was 3 years old and knew that last time, and I mean here he is 4-and-a-half.”

It’s that same 4-and-a-half-year-old dynamo, a kid who cracks himself up playing tricks on his kitten, who motivates Natalie to keep going. Even when things look bleak, even when she’s stuffing clothes and toys into garbage bags so she can move her little family yet again, Natalie says she has to persevere.

“You have to hope, you have to dream you have to know and believe that there is going to be something better and reach for it,” Natalie says. “Because if you don’t have any dreams and hopes and you don’t reach for something else, you’re going to stay in the same spot and you don’t want to do that.”

And Natalie admits, sometimes to move forward, you have to take a step back.

Watch Natalie and Samuel getting ready to move:

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.