By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4)– A mother of four is the face of a growing eviction crisis in the country. It’s an issue that is prominent in Colorado, with several cities ranking among the top in evictions nationwide.

“It’s embarrassing. Nobody wants to be in the situation,” says Michelle Martin.

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She, her husband and their four kids – two of whom have special needs – are homeless after they were evicted from their apartment for being three weeks late with rent.

“I can understand if we were a few months behind or something like that but we had the money before the next month was due and they were just like we’re not accepting it and… we just didn’t have any money for an attorney and we just felt like they had it all in their court.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat and Colorado’s senior senator, has introduced a bill aimed at giving renters a fighting chance. It would help fund legal services for tenants and create a national database to track evictions – the causes and consequences.

(credit: Michelle Martin)

“The costs are enormous for those evicted, but they are also detrimental for society,” said Bennet. “As a former school superintendent, I saw kids falling asleep in class because they didn’t have a stable place to stay the night before. And I’ve heard from many hard-working Coloradans about how one misstep led to their lives falling apart. We need to turn national attention to this crisis and put in place policies that both prevent evictions and limit the damage when they occur.”

Colorado has roughly 45,000 evictions every year with five Colorado cities having among the highest number of evictions in the country: Aurora, Colorado Springs, Lakewood, Thornton and Westminster.

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In the vast majority of cases, families like the Martins are on their own in a complex legal system.

“A lot of families and individuals are walking through this process alone,” said Aubrey Hasvold with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

She helped conduct a study last year that found 90 percent of landlords in eviction proceedings in Colorado have an attorney while less than one percent of tenants do.

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“In just the handful of cases that we studied that did have an attorney representing them, almost all of them were able to remain in their homes and even the ones who weren’t were able to get more favorable move out terms.”

She says evictions take not only an enormous toll on families, but communities. A single eviction can lead to $30,000 in additional government services.

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Martin, whose husband works full time, says they are now in a hotel. No apartments will take them with an eviction on their record. But she’s not losing hope.

“We’re just making the best of a bad situation and I’m trying to teach my kids that life isn’t always pretty and we may go through some hard times but we can still be happy. We can still appreciate what we have. We have each other.”

Shaun Boyd is CBS4’s political specialist. She’s a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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