In the middle of one of those heavy afternoon downpours we seem to experience so often during the summer here in Milton, a dripping wet father and young son made their way out of the rain and into the lobby of our United Way of Santa Rosa County office.
It was a hard to watch the boy try to wipe the rain and tears off his face using the wet stuffed animal he tightly clutched in his arms.
While the father explained the string of personal hardships that bought them to our office, a few of us sat and spoke with the boy and gave him a beverage and some fruit. Then we offered a few toys, hoping to distract his attention while the father tried to compose himself.
The father explained to our First Call for Help staff that he was just reunited with his son, who has medical issues. That morning, he and the boy were kicked out of the place they were living in; his employer’s bank would not cash the paycheck he earned working that week; they had no car and only limited funds; there were no friends or family to call; the man was relatively new to town and unfamiliar with area services.
Though glad he visited our office for help and guidance, I felt frustrated and saddened. I knew that among other key issues, homelessness is an extremely underfunded cause with limited assistance available here in Santa Rosa.
I have my own memories of facing homelessness four years ago. During a series of unfortunate life and death, circumstances, I lost my home, income and assets while living in an area of the U.S. that was slow to recover from the recession.
Determined to not become homeless, I knew I would have to swallow my pride and allow others to help. My journey was tough, but I was blessed to receive assistance from many amazing friends, neighbors and agencies, including a United Way office.
Aside from moral and emotional support, I was helped with medical, food, clothing, education and income opportunities.
Here in Santa Rosa, with limited funding and resources for housing, area agencies and our office were only able to provide the father and son with short-term solutions; financial assistance for some nights at a hotel; birthday cake; and a few presents for the boy, who would be spending his birthday in a shelter situation, instead of at home of his own.
When you hear the sweet boy enthusiastically say, “Daddy can we go to our room and play with my new toys?” it grips you all over again to realize: they have no home and we were out of funding. Where will they go tomorrow night?
This situation was further complicated because some housing programs can only help if there is permanent guardianship of the minor; his was only temporary. For this family of two, even though the boy is the biological son, that legal process was still in progress.
Here’s the good news: helping the two get off the streets bought the father some time to make a plan. He found another job and called to thank us, saying he located a place to live. Now the boy is able to start school and together, hopefully, their future will brighten.
The fact is that not having a place to live, running out of funds, losing a job, etc., are all things that could happen to any of us.
Having moved here to the Gulf Coast from Las Vegas, I’m keenly aware that by living in Santa Rosa, life as we know it can change in a blink. One storm, or any disaster, could shake our world.
Thankfully, today I’m back on my feet and consider it an honor and privilege to work at UWSR. A coworker pointed out that United Way saved me twice: once financially during my time of need and a second time by employing me.
I know that I would not have made it this far without so many acts of kindness from others. That’s why my No. 1 UWSR goal is to reach more people through increased awareness and funding from individuals, corporations and employee workplace donations.
Rain or shine, in any type of weather, we’re all in this together.
Call Debra Baez at 623-4507 to arrange a workplace campaign for any number of employees, donate, or volunteer.