by Andria Borba and Abigail Sterling

SAN LEANDRO (KPIX) — Over the past three years the KPIX Project Home team has profiled dozens of homeless Bay Area residents. As 2021 wraps up, we have set out to track some of them down to see how they’re faring.

There is some good news to report about one homeless couple that we first met back in 2018. Their story may be a sign that billions of federal and state dollars pouring in to help the homeless are starting to make a difference.

“Today we pick our keys up for our house, our apartment!” said Kymberli Wilson. We had never seen her, her husband Lenton and their dog Mokka so happy. “It doesn’t feel like it’s real,” Lenton Wilson added.

The Wilsons in their new apartment. (CBS)

After four years without a house they were about to pick up the keys to a permanent, two-bedroom apartment.

“A lot of weight is lifted, a lot of anxiety. What’s the word — it’s overwhelming,” Kymberli said.

We first met up with the Wilsons on 77th Avenue in East Oakland when they were living in a creative collection of tents, complete with a kitchen, a pantry, a functioning shower and a cable TV connection that went in and out with each passing BART train.

Looking back they say it wasn’t fun.

“We had the rat carpet under our pallets. We could feel them at night,” Kymberli said.

They learned to deal with the cold, with violence and with the constant craving for a roof and a real bed.

“You walk by other people’s houses and you see them in the house and you have to just keep walking because you have no place to lie down,” Lenton said.

Then one day about a year and a half ago an offer came that would get them off the street. The Wilsons were among the first to move into one of 67 new trailers at Operation HomeBase, a trailer park for homeless seniors set up by the city of Oakland.

When we visited them there in 2020 they were thrilled with the new amenities. “We don’t have to go to the fire hydrant and get water in our water jugs,” said Kymberli at the time.

It took a year and a half but the program eventually led to an emergency housing voucher and, finally, permanent housing.

The Wilsons aren’t the only success stories here.

“Half of the folks who started here have moved on to permanent housing,” said Darin Lounds, executive director of the Housing Consortium of the East Bay that runs Operation Homebase.

He says 75 people have exited HomeBase since it opened in the spring of 2020.

“Seeing someone sign a lease and get the keys is the most joyous time for anyone in this work,” Lounds said.

He said the biggest help this year was a $5 billion in federal emergency housing vouchers for the homeless, that guarantee subsidized rent for life. “Without that voucher their opportunities for getting into permanent supportive housing would be extremely limited,” said Lounds.

But even billions of dollars can only do so much. “The waiting list continues to get longer and longer,” said Chelsea Andrews, executive director of EveryOne Home a non profit that oversees, among other things, Alameda County’s point-in-time homeless count.

In the last count in January of 2019 before COVID, the group tallied 8,000 homeless in the county, half of them in Oakland. For the next count in January 2022, Andrews predicts the numbers are likely going to be much higher.

“I’ve kind of coined a saying that this count counts more than any count before. It’s our estimation that, considering all the circumstances — the economic downturn — that there is going to be a spike in homelessness across the nation,” said Andrews.

Kymberli and Lenton Wilson know they are among the lucky ones. We caught up with them packing up and moving out of their RV at Operation HomeBase. Then we followed them to their new apartment in San Leandro. “I get goose bumps every time I walk in here,” Kymberli said.

Her favorite room is the kitchen.

“We both like to cook. We haven’t had a stove or an oven in the trailer so we have been cooking on hot plates,” Kymberli said.

Their advice to friends still living on the street: Be patient but stay focused and don’t give up.

“It’s in your head from the time, you come out to the street you think about this day right here,” Lenton said.

The Wilsons have another good piece of advice: Even when you’re houseless don’t stop working. They advertise yard work and house cleaning on NextDoor and were recently voted neighborhood favorites.

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EveryOne Home hopes people will get involved as it prepares for the January 2022 point in time Homeless Count in Alameda County.

Homeless resources in Oakland: http://oaklandca.gov/topics/housing-resource-center