Christmas dinners come with a bounty of food and fellowship, but a Dec. 18 meal at the Vault came with a promise that meant more to some families: that their children would be guaranteed a toy to take home, perhaps the only gift they would receive this holiday.
At the 28th annual dinner for homeless people living in the county’s Family Winter Shelter, over 100 people had the chance to have the blessings of Christmas for a night.
The Family Winter Shelter is a program that runs from December through March. Andi Anderson with Community Services and Workforce Development said the goal is to give homeless people a chance to catch their breath as they try to stand on their own feet again.
“We work towards getting them into permanent housing,” Anderson said. “They participate in a voluntary rent saving program while they stay with us. If things go well, by March they have enough saved up to be able to afford rent and deposit on a permanent place to live.”
The program has a good success rate, but the last two years have seen a drop owing to a lack of affordable housing and increased rents. In conversations with both program workers and people housed in the Winter Shelter, these have become constant concerns. Anderson, who was formerly homeless herself, understands the struggle.
“Some of the families who do come in, they’ve been living in cars, they’ve been living in tents, they’ve been couch surfing,” she said. “A lot of them work but just have not been able to save up the money.”
Grace Orta with San Benito County Health and Human Services works with families at the Winter Shelter. Her hope is that half the families who attended the Dec. 18 dinner will be placed in homes by the first of June when the program ends. For those who do not obtain housing, Orta steers them to resources that will keep them from falling through the cracks.
“We have a job center right at the office, we have a housing locator we put out every week,” Orta said. “We have referrals we can give them to go to Hazel Thrift Shop for clothing and we send them to the Community FoodBank.” Planning for the Family Winter Shelter begins again in October, with families lined up by November to move in on Dec. 1.
Darlene Boyd, a representative for District 2 Supervisor Anthony Bothelo, is on the Community Action Board which put on the Vault dinner. She outlines more possibilities for post-March assistance, with programs that offer rental assistance and help with utility bills and housing for migrant laborers at county facilities.
“We are going to be building some transitional facilities as well for people who want to educate themselves more through programs at Gavilan College. But that is a couple of years away,” she said.
Boyd’s job at the dinner was to organize volunteers from Anzar High and San Benito High, with both schools offering their full support. One volunteer, Zophia Aronsky from Anzar, is in her second year of donating time for the dinner. She said she goes home feeling happy that she helped.
“I have had a chance to give something to people who do not have everything I do,” Aronsky said. “I kept remembering last year when I saw how happy the kids were just to be here with their parents to sit down for a meal.”