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Facing It Together: San Diego single mom strives to keep family together

Posted: 9:46 AM, Oct 28, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-29 15:39:50-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - San Diego is an expensive place to live. Many residents are struggling on the edge of homelessness, and others have already slipped over the edge to become part of the population referred to as "unsheltered."'

Here at 10News, we're committed to Facing It Together. We're talking about the struggles that are all too real for many people living here.

As part of our initiative to face these issues together, 10News anchor Kimberly Hunt spent the entire day with a single mom striving to keep her family together, despite currently being without housing.

The day began at 5:30am. Kimberly met the 24-year-old mother who only wanted to be identified as Celina and one of her two children at their SUV parked in a Safe Parking Lot belonging to Jewish Family Service.

On this particular morning, it was just Celina and her two-year-old son Jerry. Her daughter Aliyana, 6, is spending her fall break from school with her grandmother and step-grandfather in Tijuana.

Celina's mother lives in Tijuana and gives her financial help.

" I was living in Mexico and I wanted my daughter to go to school here,” Celina said.

Not wanting to cross the border every day and not being able to find affordable housing in San Diego means Celina will start the daily cycle that begins with waking up a sleeping baby.

" My kids keep me motivated, keep me going, trying to do what I can for them.”

Celina carries Jerry to the porta-potty and back to the vehicle to begin the lengthy process of folding up the blankets and mats and putting a half dozen bins, filled with their belongings, back into the SUV.

Complete Coverage: Facing It Together

“Roll this up, put the seat up, put car seat in. Have them jump over the seats and get into the car seats. I put these three bins in, put this basket in, then these come on the other side. There's another basket, his stroller goes in this corner. The other corner has the laundry basket. And I put the stroller standing up to fit it in. That's how I fix the car."

With the car packed, the family heads to daycare about 30 to 40 minutes away. The kids are fed before the daycare provider walks Aliyana to school around the corner.

Celina will head to her job at the ARC of San Diego. She just began working full-time two weeks ago. Now she has a steady paycheck and benefits. That will help because Celina is five months pregnant.

As Celina and Kimberly arrive at ARC, a LEAD supervisor greets them in the parking lot. Angie Aquilar is aware that Celina comes to this job already in a challenging position.

"I'm not sure where she's staying…I always try to keep her spirits up and brighten her day. I know she's here to brighten other folks’ days…and I just wish the best for her,” Aquilar said.

Hunt goes with Celina through her work day in the yoga class with clients, as well as the art, games, and activity center. Celina says everyone here is nice and it makes her feel good to help the disabled clients they serve live a more independent life.

"No matter what...they see you for who you are."

At the end of her workday, Celina heads back to daycare to pick up her children. She usually stops for food. Aliyana gets to pick.

"Sometimes we'll go to Walmart. I have them eat. She'll pick out what she wants. We're kinda just killing time…because we can't get here (JFS Safe Parking Lot) until 6 p.m.”

After dinner, they make the drive back to the Safe Parking Lot. Showers are available once a week here, but Celina has other options for that as well. Then they head into the common area where boxed meals are provided through an agreement with Starbucks. Volunteers will play with Jerry and Aliyana while Celina enjoys the conversation of other guests here.

The Director of Strategic Partnerships, Carole Yellen, says normalizing the environment for children and adults is very important.

" When they come here, they connect with people in similar circumstances and they connect not only with resources, but with each other. The emotional support of the neighborhood community here is what keeps many people motivated on a really hard journey back to permanent housing."

After Jerry and Aliyana play, it's time to unload the car of its bins, baskets and strollers and put down the seats so the family can go to bed. Celina knows this can't continue much longer. She receives government aid and that comes with welfare checks on the children. She was notified she has three months. Celina will give birth in four months.

"I don't want my kids to be away from me. They're kinda the reason I stay up, I keep moving forward. They're my motivation basically. They're not being abused; they're being well taken care of. I know this situation is kinda hard, but my daughter goes to school every day. She doesn't miss,” Celina said. “I wouldn't want to separate them or have them live with anyone else other than, right now, with me."

Celina is busy looking for an apartment or a room that can accommodate the whole family. If she can't find it soon, she understands she needs to make another choice.

"Mexico is not expensive, so I would most likely just cross every day."

For now, she’s accessing the resources provided by Jewish Family Service. Every guest is required to work with a case worker and a housing specialist. The goal is getting help to get on her feet.

"I'm looking, I have faith, I have hope that things will change."