Remember that awful rain storm we had in San Diego last month? That’s the day I got a call from a woman who told me she was 8 ½ months pregnant, had two small children and no place to live. She said she wasn’t a veteran, but I knew we had to get this woman and her children housed before she gave birth.
There’s lots of talk these days about the “Housing First” model where agencies get people into housing as a first step without a lot of hurdles. The reasoning is that people can’t begin to address the causes for their homelessness when they are preoccupied with meeting their most basic need for shelter. Amikas strongly supports this model, with the condition that people must be provided intensive support before and after housing.
Unfortunately, Amikas is so strapped for funds that we can’t house anyone who doesn’t have the money to pay the very low rent we must charge to maintain the Amikas House and the AD-UP units we rent and sublet. We rely on agencies we collaborate with for temporary financial assistance, employment services and emergency shelter. But I ran into a brick wall trying to find shelter for this family.
When I called the mom back, I reassured her that there was no way I was going to let her and her kids stay on the street. If necessary, I was prepared to put them in the living room of Amikas House until we had an opening and we figured out how to get the $400 per month she’d need for rent. I happened to mention that it was too bad she wasn’t a veteran because we could get her temporary financial assistance through the VA Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. That’s when she told me that her husband is a veteran.“Husband?” I asked, “Where is he?”
She explained that when the family lost their housing, they had been unsuccessful finding anyplace that would take them as a family. (The lack of emergency shelter for families is a serious problem here in San Diego.) They managed to get a hotel voucher for one week but they were frantic that there would be no place to take the baby after it was born. So that day, standing in the cold wind and rain, waiting for a trolley to take them to the motel, they made the painful decision to split up so mom and the kids could get into emergency housing and dad would fend for himself.
The Amikas Board approved opening an additional AD-UP home for this family if I could get commitments for the money. The response to my email was just enough to go ahead. We referred Mr. Howell to Able-Disabled Advocacy for employment assistance and to Veteran Community Services for rental assistance. We negotiated for rental of a recently renovated cottage in Encanto with Bob Georgiou, a property owner who has been working with Amikas.
Over the next few days, with the help of veteran volunteers from the emergency shelter we picked up donated furnishings and household items and set up the house. With the help of many people who donated money, household goods and their hard work, Amikas housed the Howell family. It was exhilarating to see what could be accomplished with a few days of intensive effort by people working together to make it happen.
And then, a week later… little Junior was born. He is a beautiful baby! He and his Mom came home from the hospital to live with his sister and brother and Dad in a home that’s safe and full of love. When we went to visit the family, Junior’s Dad exclaimed, "I don't know where we'd be right now if Amikas hadn't stepped in!" Thanks to the combined efforts of the agencies and individuals who care about our less fortunate neighbors, the Howell family is back on track.