Just two days after Thanksgiving, 11 members of a Modesto family could find themselves out on the streets. There simply aren’t many, if any, other options.
Granted, they represent an extreme case, said Tamra Losinski, executive director of Family Promise of Greater Modesto, a small nonprofit that works with churches to shelter families for up to 90 days at no charge.
Make that the extreme case.
“It’s the largest family we’ve ever had,” she said. “With rents higher, landlords have more options about who they can rent to. It’s also the first family that’s tried really hard that we haven’t been able to help (find permanent housing).”
That, after keeping them in the program for an extra month. The agency helps families get back on their feet and off of the street after losing their homes or being evicted from rentals. Family members not working or in school spend their days at the agency, which works out of the Church of the Brethren on Woodland Avenue.
Family Promise demands that clients bank 75 percent of their income and learn about managing their finances so when they do find a willing landlord, they’ll have saved enough for the first and last month’s rent along with the security deposit. The goal is to keep families together while helping them restore their credit and reputations as reliable and responsible tenants.
The decade-old agency has successfully aided more than 200 families ranging in size from a single mom with a child to the current family of 11. In the latter case, the parents speak Spanish. They have four girls and four boys ages 3 to 17, and the eldest daughter has an infant boy. Three-bedroom homes in Modesto are listing for upward of $950 per month, according to online listings including The Bee’s classifieds.
“The dad’s been working right along,” said Beatrice Naranjo, their caseworker. “They’ve been saving their money, but we haven’t found a landlord willing to commit to renting to a family with a mom and dad and eight or nine kids.”
Indeed, when people think of the homeless, they think of individuals pushing shopping carts; panhandling; hanging out in parks, libraries and other public places; sleeping in doorways; or rummaging through trash bins in alleyways looking for food scraps or recyclables. They are the visible homeless. But there are others who are invisible.
The most mind-numbing number emanating from last month’s Focus on Prevention event on homelessness in Modesto was that there are nearly 6,900 schoolchildren who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless, according to the Stanislaus County Office of Education. Homelessness, in their case, includes those who “couch-surf” or double up, meaning multiple families living under the same roof.
Multiply that by an average of 2.75 people per household, and the number of homeless or at-risk people soars to nearly 19,000, according to Aaron Farnon of the Stanislaus County Housing Authority. He is a past president of the Continuum of Care, which has brought $3.5 million in federal housing dollars to the county.
“This is what poverty looks like in Stanislaus County,” said Marian Kaanon, executive director of the Stanislaus Community Foundation, a nonprofit that raises funds and distributes them to other charities throughout the county. “The nuances of poverty from person to person, family to family, are not the same.”
Modesto Family Promise’s clientele consists only of families who live in Stanislaus County, have worked here and whose school-aged children attend schools here. Some of these families came to the Valley many years ago because the cost of living – rent, food, utilities – is significantly lower here than in Bay Area counties. The agency does receive calls from housing officials from as far away as Southern California looking to place families but does not take them. And no, their clients were not put on a bus and sent over here with one-way tickets by city officials elsewhere, Naranjo said, dispelling a popular local myth.
“I’ve never come across anyone like that,” she said.
Client families spend a week in each of the 13 host churches, moving to new hosts each Sunday. Among them is Geneva Presbyterian Church, which has provided shelter ever since Family Promise formed.
But time is running out for the 11 members of the Modesto family. The agency is desperate to find a landlord willing to work with such a large group.
Other families wait to take their place in line and in the shelters.
Want to help?
Visit www.modestofamilypromise.org for more information or if you know of a landlord with housing to rent.