From Homeless To Home, Just In Time For The Holidays

Published: Tuesday, December 13, 2016 - 5:45pm
Updated: Wednesday, December 14, 2016 - 9:30am
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Pilar Ybarra carries kitchen chairs up stairs to her apartment.
(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Pilar, second from the left, sits on her donated couch with volunteers from Furnishing Dignity.

Move-in day. It’s one of life’s most stressful events but also maybe one of the most exciting. For some, it’s actually life-changing because it means moving off the street or out of a shelter to an address and a space of their own.

Two weeks ago, Pilar Ybarra was running out of time. She, her husband and their 5-year-old daughter were living in a shelter. But there’s a limit on how long you can stay.

“Yeah, 120 days,” Ybarra said.

They were coming up on 104. They used to have a two-bedroom condo. Her husband, Daniel, had a good job.

“Him and his brother had an auto-glass business,” Ybarra said. “And we were OK. They made pretty good money, and we didn’t really have to worry about anything. I was allowed to stay home with my daughter.”

A year ago, the steady job disappeared.

“My brother-in-law had a major stroke, and we lost everything.”

Ybarra had never been homeless before. But her family suddenly found themselves bouncing around to friends’ and family’s houses ... a hotel room ... the street ... and then, the shelter. All while most of their belongings sat in storage.

“We don’t have hardly anything in there,” Ybarra said. “We had to sell our furniture. We sold our beds. We sold whatever was big.”

The little things leftover mean a lot to her. There are family photos, her parents’ ashes and her daughter Alissa’s baby keepsakes. Now she’s worried her stuff will go to auction because she can’t pay for storage anymore.

“We have nothing. I don’t know how else to explain it. It makes me feel like I’m nothing,” Ybarra said.

Corrina Romero is a housing case manager. She’s helping Ybarra.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure that they are able to find a home and stay in a home,” Romero said.

Romero works for A New Leaf, a non-profit that helps people in crisis. Romero said they approach homelessness with a tactic called Housing First, “where you get people into homes first, and then you help them resolve their issues. The old way was like, well you have to have a job or you have to be, you know, staying sober or whatever it is.”

This mindset is somewhat new. In 2010, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness called Housing First the solution to ending chronic homelessness, vs. treating housing as the end reward after many other steps. 

“People are more willing to go to work every morning when they’re waking up in their own home versus a shelter,” Romero said.

And Ybarra is ready to move out of the shelter.

“I’m ready to have my own place,” she said. “It’s a roof over our head and over our daughter’s head. That’s all that matters.”

And just a week before the deadline to leave the shelter was move in day. The first thing into their new apartment was a Christmas tree.

“No ornaments yet,” Ybarra pointed out.

Her voice echoed in the front room off white walls. There’s a bedroom in the back, with a balcony. All empty, but that was soon to change with a moving truck full of donated stuff.

Everything from beds to muffin tins, along with a whole team of people to unload it and unpack it.

“They’ve got a place to sit in the family room. They’ve got a kitchen table and chairs to eat,” helper Joyce Petrowski said.

“They need dishes and glasses and silverware and cooking stuff,” she said.

Petrowski started the nonprofit Furnishing Dignity. They collect donations and then furnish the homes of those who were homeless, averaging 10 households a month. And like the name suggests, it’s about furniture, but also dignity.

“We don’t take in any furniture that has stains on it or might be ripped,” Petrowski said.

Ybarra was really excited about a food processor she discovered in a box full of kitchenware. All the odds and ends she had to give up this year were unwrapped, like gifts.

Her daughter was in her kindergarten class during the move, but Ybarra said she can’t wait to show her. She said it’s been really hard to watch her little girl go through this.

“Saturday, we went to see Santa,” she said. “And Santa told me that she asked for her stuff out of storage, and I just broke down crying.”

Ybarra said she’s hoping but doesn’t know if it’ll happen.

But there are dishes in the cupboards, and sheets on the beds. And Ybarra plans to make Christmas cookies on the baking pans. The last thing the helpers do before taking off is plug in the tree.

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