Nancy Rogerson, 66, and her two granddaughters, Aleaya, 9, and Destiny, 4, are living with their three dogs in a brown Dodge pickup because they currently have no place else to go.
Since gaining custody of the girls last year, Rogerson has struggled to find a permanent place to live in Tuolumne County’s tight and increasingly expensive housing market.
“I try not to cry in front of the girls,” Rogerson said while standing outside of her truck on Monday as Aleaya and Destiny played with the dogs in the backseat.
The family spent the past few nights piled in their truck behind PetSmart on Sanguinetti Road after moving out of the Sonora Gold Lodge on Stockton Road, where they lived since last March.
They planned to stay in the Columbia area Monday night after going to the Church of the 49ers on Jackson Street, where the girls would be able to have a meal and take a hot shower.
Rogerson can’t work because she suffers from sciatic nerve damage caused by two car accidents earlier in life that were both the fault of drunk drivers.
She has applied for Section 8 and low-income housing only to be put on waiting lists or turned away because of the dogs, a Queensland Heeler-border collie mix and two Chihuahuas.
The only two homeless shelters in the county also won’t accept the dogs, but Rogerson said she can’t bring herself to give them away because the girls are so attached.
“It’s just really hard when you keep getting rejected,” Rogerson lamented. “Why don’t they get places for people to stay if you keep your area clean?”
Studies have found that families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population in the United States.
Families with children represent about 41 percent of the national homeless population. The average age of a homeless person in the U.S. is 9 years old.
A survey conducted in late September found that 177 of the 711 people who are homeless in Tuolumne County are under 18, including 22 who are under the age of 5.
Rogerson said she receives $910 a month from Supplemental Security Income, in addition to $627 in cash aid and $316 for food stamps.
She filed for the Section 8 low-income housing program in September, but was told that she could be on the waiting list for one to three years due to the demand.
All of the places that Rogerson has looked at on Greenley Road are full. She also was recently turned down from a place in Columbia after the tenants who were planning to move out decided to stay.
Rogerson said she would rather raise the girls in Tuolumne County as opposed to a bigger city like Modesto, because she was homeless at 17 on the streets of San Francisco.
She’s avoided applying for some low-income units in Jamestown because of the crime rate, but plans on looking into that this week as a last resort.
“I just want us to be in a safe place,” Rogerson said. “I take care of my stuff and take care of my girls.”
Last year, Rogerson was forced to move out of a fifth-wheel trailer that she lived in for seven years following the death of her landlord.
She said she would gladly live in another trailer if offered, but she’s heard all of the mobile home parks are full as well.
The family lived at the Sonora Gold Lodge thanks in large part to the generosity of David Weseman, a man whom they hadn’t met until last year.
Weseman, 67, struggled to find a home after retiring from the National Park Service in early 2016 as a water and wastewater operator at Yosemite National Park. He previously lived in occupational housing in El Portal for more than 25 years.
Weseman said he met Rogerson and her granddaughters while he was staying at Sonora Gold Lodge in the midst looking for a place of his own.
“My brother and I were in a very similar situation when were were kids, and if my grandparents hadn’t stepped up, who knows what would have happened to us,” he said. “I feel the same way about Aleaya and Destiny. I don’t want to see them split up. Both of them seem to have so much potential.”
When Weseman heard that the Stanislaus County Housing Authority was opening up its Section 8 waiting list to Tuolumne County residents in September, he offered to cover the rents of Rogerson and two other families who were staying at the lodge at the time.
The other two families have since found housing, but Weseman continued to support Rogerson.
“I realized that as rough of an experience as it was for me, I’ve got savings and a few friends,” Weseman said. “With Nancy and her girls, it’s not as easy.”
Weseman recently moved out of the lodge after his friend helped him get a studio apartment in Tuolumne.
At the same time, Weseman found he could no longer continue supporting Rogerson and her grandchildren after nearly maxing out his $24,000 credit limit and dipping into some of his retirement savings to cover the bill.
“On one of my final nights at the hotel, Nancy had heard I found a place and Aleaya stuck her head out the door and congratulated me,” Weseman said. “For a girl who has nothing to have such grace for somebody else getting out of that situation, that was really heartrending.”
Tina Carrillo, manager of the Sonora Gold Lodge, said that Rogerson and her grandchildren had been at the hotel for so long that they had become like family to the staff.
On Christmas, the staff bought presents for the girls and put them under a tree in the hotel’s office.
Carrillo praised the way that Rogerson treated the girls and said they never received a single complaint about them. She added that they always paid rent on time and left the room clean when they moved out.
“The grandkids are very lucky to have her,” Carrillo said of Rogerson. “She did everything she could to try to provide for them.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.