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San Bernardino County program houses homeless families with children

When Ana Santana and her children moved into their Loma Linda apartment nearly four years ago, it meant more than having a new place to live.

It was a new start.

Santana, who was pregnant at the time, said she and her two young sons were living in their car, bouncing between parks and shelters before finding housing through the No Child Left Unsheltered program, an initiative launched in 2015 by the Housing Authority of San Bernardino County. The agency is one of 39 across the state with such a program.

Santana, her daughter Daliah Tamayo, 3; son Damian Tamayo, 14; and son Favian Tamayo, 8; have been rebuilding their lives — little by little — ever since.

“From how broken we were, we’re building ourselves with resources that we never knew were out there,” said Santana, 30.

Ana Santana, 30, laughs on her couch at her Loma Linda apartment Friday, Aug. 9. Santana and her family found housing under San Bernardino County’s No Child Left Unsheltered program. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Damian Tamayo, 14, left, and mother Ana Santana, 30, and his two younger siblings got off the streets thanks to San Bernardino County’s No Child Left Unsheltered program. They discussed their story Friday, Aug. 9. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

San Bernardino County’s No Child Left Unsheltered program found housing for Ana Santana, 30, a mother of three, and her children, who are seen Friday, Aug. 9. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Damian Tamayo, 14, is reflected in a butterfly mirror Friday, Aug. 9, at his family’s Loma Linda apartment. Tamayo struck a friendship with his next-door neighbor, pictured below, when he asked if he could help carry her bags. His family once lived on the streets but since 2015 has had an apartment through San Bernardino County’s No Child Left Unsheltered program. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Loma Linda resident Ana Santana, 30, seen Friday, Aug. 9, has survived many hardships, including living on the streets with her three children. A Bible is enshrined in the entrance of her home. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Inspirational words and religious pictures line the Loma Linda apartment of single mother Ana Santana, 30. Her family found a home thanks to San Bernardino County’s No Child Left Unsheltered program. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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Sheltering children

The program uses a housing-first approach to house homeless families with children.

The Housing Authority partners with the county Department of Behavioral Health, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, schools, faith-based organizations and nonprofit groups to get families into housing before they receive services.

The behavioral health department offers families case management and clinical therapy to help with mental health and, if needed, substance abuse treatment, county officials said.

The county’s affiliate nonprofit, Knowledge and Education for Your Success, or KEYS, provides financial assistance, such as utility deposits, transportation — including cards and bus passes — credit checks and application fees. It also helps families get birth certificates and other government documents, furnishings, welcome kits and other ne.

The only requirement to get help through the program is to be homeless, said Ana Gamiz, director of policy and public relations for the Housing Authority.

Families pay up to 30% of their income. No Child has hardship exemptions for those who cannot pay the minimum monthly rent of $125.

While there is no time limit on how long a family can stay in the program, county research has shown it could take a family at least two years to get established and into a routine, Gamiz said.

“These families have been homeless and they’re in crisis,” Gamiz said. “They need a lot more assistance than perhaps a traditional family that wasn’t street homeless.”

The program was born out of a conversation between county officials and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, during a visit to Washington D.C. a few years ago. When Feinstein learned that San Bernardino County had about 36,000 homeless children, she challenged the county to do something.

“We all got together and we created No Child Left Unsheltered,” said Brenda Dowdy, homeless education program specialist with the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools. “It’s been going good every since.”

While the number of homeless children in the county has dropped to around 33,000, Dowdy said, they have seen an increase in unaccompanied minors, those not in the physical custody of their parents or guardians. There were about 600 unaccompanied minors in 2017-18, she said.

Not having a place to call home can lead to students acting out or being angry, Dowdy said.

“You do see that sometimes because kids are angry, it could affect their grades,” Dowdy said. “I think establishing those relationships with them, letting them know there’s somebody who cares and what we try to do is we try to bring them different experiences.”

The homeless education program provides tutoring services and includes college and career events. It helps parents receive their GED or high school diplomas as well as connect them to employment and housing resources.

“We’ve just got to keep supporting our children and families to make sure they have an opportunity to be successful,” Dowdy said. “If we all work together and band our resources together, we can make a huge difference in our county.”

The Housing Authority offers the program, Gamiz said, because of a special designation it has from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through a program called Moving to Work.

No Child has served 182 people, including 114 children, since inception. Today, there 31 households in the program, Gamiz said.

From the park to a new home

Santana said she and her boys became homeless after her father went to prison. They lost their house in Bloomington and the family Kia became their home.

The family bounced from park to park and shelter to shelter for several months before a teacher at the boys’ school intervened. Santana, still pregnant, was not feeling well. The teacher directed her to Kaiser for medical treatment, but to Santana’s surprise, she got more help than she expected.

A nurse handed Santana the phone. On the line was Deputy Mike Jones with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement, or H.O.P.E., team.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you get a place tonight … I’ll make sure from now on you and your kids are housed,’” Santana said.

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The family spent the next few weeks living in a motel, with help from Catholic Charities in San Bernardino, Santana said.

On Sept. 11, 2015, they received life changing news — they were moving into their own apartment.

“I broke down crying,” Santana said.

Santana now works at a nearby hotel. And the family enjoys hiking and camping.

“We’re strong believers that God has been with us this entire time,” she said. “Nothing can break us now.”