While the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges and losses for so many people in the United States, families living at or near the poverty threshold face particular challenges that many of us will never have to experience.
In the midst of the pandemic, the Perez* family was struggling to make ends meet. Dad, Frank, mom, Lupita, and boys, Ernesto, 12, and Mateo, 10, had left their lives in Nicaragua — the poorest country in Central America — to find new opportunities and a better life in California.
The Cost of Living in San Mateo County
Both Frank and Luptia found jobs on the Peninsula and when the pandemic hit, they were fortunate enough to keep them. However, life in San Mateo County was difficult. A National Income Coalition report shows that one person earning minimum wage would have to work 89 hours per week in order to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment in San Mateo County. Other statistics report that it would take about four minimum-wage jobs to support (house and feed) a family of four in San Mateo County. These statistics are alarming and sadly reflect the plight of the Perez family.
Even though both Frank and Luptia had jobs, they didn’t have enough money to make rent and feed their family. By June of 2020, the Perez family found themselves facing life in their car, parked on the streets of San Mateo County. To exacerbate their plight, both Frank and Lupita were then laid off due to the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic and finding new jobs was extremely difficult.
To make matters worse, the family was unable to get any government assistance. Their immigration attorney advised them not to apply for assistance for fear that this would jeopardize their chances of obtaining citizenship.
It was a dark and frightening time for their family — particularly for the boys, who struggled to understand the traumatic events that were unfolding in their lives.
Finding the Way to Home & Hope
But with some help and direction from their case worker at Samaritan House (a Home & Hope partner agency), Frank and Lupita found their way to the Home & Hope Emergency Shelter Program.
According to Lupita, “We were so relieved to find a safe place and some much-needed stability and support. And our case manager gave us a lot of personal attention, which we really needed at the time.”
Their Home & Hope case manager assessed the family’s situation and quickly addressed the most immediate needs of the family. “From there, our case manager helped us put together a plan that would get us back into permanent housing as quickly as possible,” said Frank. “Part of the plan was to increase our income through job training and new job opportunities.”
On the Road to Self-Sufficiency
“When we had our weekly meetings with our case manager, we would go over our case plan. This helped us stay on track to meet our goals. And we never missed our weekly check in because we knew how that would make a big difference in us getting back into stable, permanent housing,” said Lupita. In Home & Hope’s program, this level of accountability is a critical part of helping families re-establish their self-sufficiency as quickly as possible. “Being accountable was not only great in helping us get back into housing, but it was also a great life skill that we used for finding jobs and making our kids’ lives more stable and settled.”
Home & Hope provides a host of services and referrals, but we also know that families need to help themselves. “Because of our case plan and support from our case manager, we saved our money quickly,” said Lupita, proudly. “We knew that Home & Hope could only show us what we needed to do, but we needed to put the work in to get the most from the program.”
Continued Frank, “We worked really hard to follow up on job leads that our case manager gave us, to save money, and to learn as many life skills as we could.”
However, finding housing in one of the most costly places to live in the U.S. was still a considerable challenge. “We were frustrated sometimes… housing is so expensive in this area and there are a lot of roadblocks when you’re trying to find an affordable living situation for a family of four,” said Lupita.
“Our Lives Changed for the Better”
When Home & Hope helped the Perez family find new, affordable, and permanent housing, “Our lives changed for the better,” said Lupita. Home & Hope helped screen housing options to ensure that the family avoided any rental scams, advocated for the family with other agencies, and found them a program that helped cover move-in costs.
Frank shared, “We now have a place to call home. The kids are so much less stressed and we’re so happy to have some stability. And with Home & Hope’s help, my wife has her old job back — and I’m now working at a new job.”
Lupita and Frank agreed, “We just want to say a million thanks to the people at Home & Hope. They worked so hard to help us get some stability, get into a new living situation that we could afford, and share skills that we could use as we moved forward in life. Home & Hope was really on our side, and that made all the difference.”
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*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our guests.