From Garage To Gratification



11 people, 2 bedrooms, and 1.5 bathrooms. Sounds impossible, doesn't it? This living situation, often referred to as "doubling up," is all too common among families experiencing homelessness. Such is the case of the Cerritos family in Orange County.

Jacinta and Elonso Cerritos immigrated to California from Mexico with their two boys, ages 14 and 19. With a monthly income of roughly $1,500 from Elonso's job and approximately $300 in food stamps, the family of four could not afford first month's rent and deposit for a home of their own. They doubled up with a family member, squeezing 11 people into a 2-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom house. The Cerritoses called the living room and garage home, and made due with one car, despite various scheduling conflicts.

11 people, 2 bedrooms, and 1.5 bathrooms.

Alex (14) and Dante (19) struggled with the lack of personal space and privacy in the overfilled quarters. Dante, however, refused to allow his homelessness to affect his education, achieving a remarkable 3.8 GPA. Alex required additional academic support due to severe learning disabilities, a need that proved difficult to fulfill with an academically-focused older brother, working father, and overloaded mother.

With a mission to reach self-sufficiency, the Cerritos family contacted Project Hope Alliance.

Case Manager Ana sat down with the family to discuss their living situation and goals, and to develop a plan to uplift them out of homelessness. Through our rapid rehousing Family Stability Program, we assisted the family with first month's rent and deposit for their new apartment. We were also able to help fund the application process needed for Jacinta to become Alex's caregiver, which created an opportunity for her to earn an income while taking care of her son. 

A safe, secure roof over the boys' heads provided them with a stable learning environment, where both teens experienced academic and emotional improvements. Dante continued to thrive in school, finishing his senior year in high school with a distinguished 4.0 GPA. In fall 2015, he confidently kicked off his college years, and we were blessed to be able to assist him with a laptop for his new path. Alex enrolled in swimming lessons, where he is learning to swim on his own. He is also now receiving a monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Throughout our relationship, the Cerritos family—notably Jacinta—have exuded extraordinary persistence, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness in gaining independence. The quartet maintains active engagement in various Project Hope Alliance activities, including Art for Healing, Shakespeare in the Park, Discovery Cube field trip, Cookies with Santa, Happiness Project, and our nutrition classes series. Elonso's monthly income also slightly increased after being housed.

Says Ana: "It truly has been a pleasure working with the [Cerritos] family due to their willingness to make a change and always put their children's education first. I was always taken by Mrs. [Cerritos] with a hug, which makes me confirm why I am in the field of Case Management because of clients like the [Cerritos] family. Every time I spoke or saw Mrs. [Cerritos] was with a smile from ear to ear, which absolutely lightened up my day.”

We continue to walk beside the appreciative family, supporting them academically, with basic needs and budgeting guidance, and via our Community Pantry as needed.