MENLO PARK (KPIX) — There is a long wait list for one of these apartments at the Haven Family House, a transitional shelter in Menlo Park.
When KPIX first visited the Chavez family a year ago, they were living in a broken-down recreational vehicle and were homeless for the first time.
There was no heat, no working fridge, virtually no free space and limited running water.
“It’s crowded, it’s hard,” said daughter Lannette Chavez in February last year.
Lannette shared a bed with her two younger sisters.
Her father Omar had been working multiple jobs in the restaurant industry until he hurt his back. Suddenly, the family was out of money and, soon, were out of options. They were evicted from their $1200 per month studio apartment in East Palo Alto.
The mother, Adriana, started working at a daycare facility making about $10 per hour. The family is part of a growing number working poor in Silicon Valley.
Since that story aired last February, KPIX received an overwhelming response from viewers.
“A lot families reach out for my family,” said Adriana Chavez. “They sent clothes for my kids, helmets for their bikes … even gift cards.”
Donations poured in, including brand new shoes and a new generator for their RV.
Ariel said her favorite gift was an Xbox. A viewer sent Lannette a brand new MacBook.
The family hadn’t asked for anything.
Nine months ago an outreach team from LifeMoves — the largest homeless shelter and services provider in Silicon Valley — offered the family a temporary, fully-furnished two-bedroom apartment. They have been living at the shelter ever since.
“When we became aware through the KPIX story and through contacts with the Ravenswood School District, our outreach workers went and met up with the Chavez family in their RV and connected them with the Haven family house shelter,” Bruce Ives, LifeMoves CEO, explained.
There are 23 apartments at the Haven Family House. In all, LifeMoves has 700 beds across several locations. Every night they are full. Half of them are occupied by children.
When asked “What’s the best part about you sleeping in your own bed?” Ariel replied: “Because no one’s there and it’s comfy.”
Adriana said the family is beyond appreciative.
“I was stunned, I was happy, I was really blessed,” she said.
Sixteen-year-old Lannette is grateful but knows their situation is temporary.
“I want to thank them for helping us and for taking their time on us but at the same time it’s like sometimes I just wish I wasn’t in this position, I had like, my own place,” Lannette said.
The family knows the clock is ticking. LifeMoves helps them with budgeting and job hunting but Omar hasn’t been able to find any work because of his injury. The average stay at the shelter is about four months.
“It’s good to know that you have a roof over your top,” said Adriana. “You are pressured being here because you need to … go search for housing.”
LifeMoves says it has helped the family qualify for subsidized housing. A voucher from San Mateo County would cover up to 75 percent of the monthly rent and that portion would decrease over a year. But the county is one of the Bay Area’s most expensive. An average one-bedroom is $3,000 a month.
Adriana works up to seven days a week but bringing in $2,000 dollars a month isn’t nearly enough.
“It’s hard just watching your mom do that all by herself. It’s like sad too, but it’s like I want to change it, I want my parents to have a better life.” said Lannette.
Lannette is now a freshman in high school and she wants to get a job at Target to help her family.
“It’s sad, it’s really sad and it hurts for the children,” said Ravenswood City School District Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff.
Hernandez-Goff says that, since our story aired, the number of homeless kids in her district has grown to 44 percent, up from one-third a year ago. That’s more than a thousand children. More are piled into cars and RVs, many of which are parked about a mile and a half from some of the most expensive homes in the country.
“It’s hard to learn when you don’t have a warm place to sleep, when you don’t know where you’re going to sleep,” said Hernandez-Goff.
Last summer, Hernandez-Goff installed washer-dryers at four schools thanks to donations. She considers this to be a band-aid on the affordable housing crisis.
“Most of the families who come into this shelter arrive with one or two parents who already have jobs, so it’s not an employment problem that’s really thrown them into homelessness, it’s the cost of housing,” said Ives.
A third of the families that move through the shelter leave for the Central Valley. Though the housing voucher could cover rent in places outside San Mateo County, the Chavez family says it doesn’t have enough saved up to make the big move.
Wherever they go, the family’s spirit is constant.
“I hope that my family’s better and they have a better life,” said Ariel.
And what would that better life look like?
“That they have a happy place and a happy face,” she replied.