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Clare didn’t have much to celebrate during Christmas 2015. Homeless, a month away from giving birth, she was clandestinely living in a friend’s office building with her two  other children.

Home (Not Homeless) For the Holidays

Homelessness

Clare (last name withheld) didn’t have much to celebrate during Christmas 2015. Homeless, a month away from giving birth, she was clandestinely living in a friend’s office building with her two  other children. There were no presents to wrap. Instead, as 2016 began, Clare was focused on making sure her 11-year old daughter left and came home from school unseen, and keeping her newborn and 2-year old daughter from alerting other tenants in the complex to their presence. 

“To have two small children in an office building and keeping them quiet during the day while other businesses were operating was difficult, because they’re trying to figure out why there’s a baby crying every few hours,” recalls Clare.

Clare would sneak out of the building at night to wash baby bottles in the public restroom and fill gallon milk jugs with water from an outside spigot. Using a single burner plugged into the wall, she would heat water and pour it into a plastic storage container for bathing. She kept the secret for nine months. But when other tenants complained, they were evicted. 

“The biggest scare for us was just hoping that no one took our kids. When you don’t know anything about community resources and how the resources work, all you think is that if people find out we can’t provide a roof over our head or shelter for our kids, we’re going to lose them,” says Clare. “So that’s the thing you don’t know, and you don’t want to reach out for help.”

Clare’s spiral into homelessness had begun nearly a year earlier, exactly one week to the day she found out she was pregnant with her youngest. Her children’s father, Kip, was working at his dad’s declining business. The family was struggling to make payments on their 4-bedroom home.

“We received a knock on the door saying there was a foreclosure auction and we received an eviction notice. We had five days to get out. We had no idea this was coming. Kip’s dad closed the business that same week.”

In the beginning, homelessness didn’t cross their minds. They moved their belongings to a storage unit. They stayed in hotels. But soon the money ran out. They could no longer pay the storage fees.

“So not only at that point had we lost our house, lost our income, but we also lost all of our belongings. Everything that kept our stability for our family was gone.”

Kip had lived with friends while Clare and the kids stayed in the friend’s office.  After being evicted, the family of five began living out of their single cab pickup. Days passed. Then, in May 2016, they were sitting in a grocery store parking lot when a police officer approached the truck.

“It just didn’t look right, when it was 100-something degrees out and here’s this whole family sitting there splitting a lunch. He asked us if there was anything he could help us with, and he asked where we were staying. And he ended up calling Angels on Patrol.”

The nonprofit paid for a hotel for four days, until the family could be placed at the Watkins homeless shelter, where they lived for three months. Clare remembers her oldest daughter crying herself to sleep every night. 

“I just kept telling her, this is temporary, it’s not going to be like this forever. And we’re going to do everything we can so it doesn’t happen again.”

Eventually, the family was transferred to La Mesita homeless shelter. It was there a nonprofit named Save the Family came in…and saved their family. 

“They ended up getting us into an apartment. They paid full rent until I had a job. Once I had a job they tapered it off until I was fully paying the rent on my own.”

Clare was placed into financial management and budgeting classes, while her caseworker connected her with job training and had her participate in mock interviews. Clare was excited when she received a job for $12 an hour. But her caseworker said it wasn’t good enough.

“I looked at her like, really, are you kidding me, I have a job! And they are like no, you can do better. And they push you enough to get you to where you’ll be fully self-sufficient.”

While Clare rebuilt her bank account, she says Save the Family rebuilt her self-esteem.

“They teach you that just because this happened to you, it doesn’t define who you are. You write your own story. I think that was the biggest takeaway, they literally rebuilt you from inside out.”

Clare's family in Christmas 2016Christmas 2016 was much different than 2015. The family had just been placed in the apartment, and a local financial institution sponsored their Christmas.

“They showed up and just brought bag after bag after bag after bag of presents. And that was really amazing. They gave us bedding for the beds that we had received. They gave us housewares, everything you need when you have a place and you don’t have anything.”

In the ensuing three years, Clare has built up a nest egg, found a well-paying job in the information technology field, increased her credit score to 785, moved into a better apartment close to good schools, and is saving to buy her own home. This Thanksgiving, she is inviting her mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law over to her place. Grateful to truly be “home for the holidays,” she already is planning the menu.

“Turkey and pumpkin pie and green bean casserole…definitely it’ll be really nice to have everybody over,” says Clare.


Save the Family is one of 35 homelessness programs funded through the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care. MAG coordinates the application process, and last year received more than $28 million for the region, including more than $1 million in new funding to provide permanent housing for homeless families.

Published October 29, 2019

About MAG

The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) is a Council of Governments (COG) that serves as the regional planning agency for the metropolitan Phoenix area.

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Title VI requires that no person in the United States of America shall, on the grounds of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be otherwise subjected to discrimination under any program or activity for which MAG receives federal financial assistance.

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