Family homelessness is exploding across the country caused by the pandemic, continual cost of living increases, and the ongoing affordable housing crisis. Unfortunately, Arizona communities have been hit harder than most, with a 35% increase in homelessness just in the last two years.
Like so many families seeking help at UMOM, the dominoes started to fall for Mariana and Jorge’s family shortly after their toddler son caught a respiratory virus and had to be hospitalized. Mariana had to take time off to care for him once he came home, eventually missing enough work that she was laid off. Jorge also had to take time off and lost his job shortly afterward. As a result, the family fell behind on rent and other bills.
They applied and were approved for unemployment benefits and rental assistance and were able to work out a payment arrangement with their landlord. However, when the eviction moratorium ended, Mariana’s family lost their lease and were forced to stay in cheap motels.
Mariana and Jorge were working odd jobs, making just enough to make car payments, keep up with their phone bill and cover the cost of food and diapers. Motel rooms were getting too expensive; with no support system or family to ask for help, eventually, their only option was to live in their vehicles.
Mariana stayed with the kids in her small SUV, occasionally doing food deliveries, while Jorge went to work in his car. Like many families facing homelessness, Mariana says she was afraid to seek help, fearful that their children – ages 1 – 5 years old – would be taken away and placed into the foster care system.
The pain in her voice is evident as she recalls how difficult it was living out of their vehicles, frightened of the unsafe condition, that the kids could be harmed and ashamed of their situation.
“The worst part was at night. Jorge slept in his car near his work while I slept with the kids in the parking lot of a friend’s apartment complex. I couldn’t sleep…. I was so scared.” she says.
Nine long weeks in the car and the lack of rest took its toll. She was so sleepy during the day; the kids would ask if she was okay. That was a sure sign that it was time to get help. She called UMOM and put their name on the waiting list for UMOM’s family emergency shelter. Then, the call came. Mariana, Jorge, and their kids could check into a room at UMOM.
It had been nine weeks of keeping the younger kids busy at the park or taking them with her on delivery runs because they had nowhere else to go while her eldest daughter was in school. Now, they could all breathe a sigh of relief and begin to heal from their ordeal.
Jorge is working full-time now during the day, while Mariana recently found a job working evenings. Being at UMOM has given the kids time to recover from the traumatic experience of living in a car. These days, it’s hard to convince the kids to get in the car, even for a short drive, because they fear they will have to sleep in there again. Mariana’s focus now is on getting housed. Working with her housing specialist, they are in the process of finding the right place, one that will meet the young family’s needs.
“If I hadn’t reached out to UMOM, who knows where I would be?” she says. “UMOM helped me keep the faith, see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Today many families are no longer able to “just scrape by.” This is where your financial support makes it possible for UMOM to offer emergency shelter and a full range of personalized services to families experiencing the nightmare of living in their cars with their children, or worse, on the streets.
Now, in Arizona’s largest family emergency shelter, where the children are safe sleeping in a warm bed and healing from the trauma of living in the car, Mariana and Jorge have been able to find jobs and are working with a housing specialist to find an affordable apartment with enough space for the whole family. With your partnership, family homelessness is solvable. Would you consider a financial donation today to help Valley families like Mariana and Jorge?