Nancy Rogerson and her two young granddaughters won’t have to sleep in their Dodge pickup for at least three more weeks.
Several people from the Church of the 49ers in Columbia banded together Monday night to put the family and their dogs up for a week in a room at the Sonora Gold Lodge on Stockton Road, while an anonymous donor covered an additional two weeks after reading about their plight in Tuesday morning’s Union Democrat.
“The girls were jumping and crying and screaming,” Rogerson said of the reaction of her granddaughters, Aleaya, 9, and Destiny, 4, when they heard the news about being able to go back to the hotel. “It’s just so nice to know there are people out there who really care.”
Rogerson and the girls,of whom she gained custody in October, had been living in their dual-cab pickup parked behind PetSmart on Sanguinetti since Thursday.
They were living at the Sonora Gold Lodge since last March while searching for a permanent home in large part thanks to David Weseman, 67, a retired National Park Service employee who covered their $630-per-week rent for several months in addition to his own.
All of the places that Rogerson can afford are either full or won’t allow the girls’ two Chihuahuas, which she has refused to part with because the girls are so attached to them.
The girls were bouncing around on the bed in their pajamas Tuesday afternoon, playing with the dogs and watching the movie “Alvin and the Chipmunks” on an iPad.
Rogerson said she kept the girls home from school to rest because they didn’t get enough over the past five nights due to the cold weather. They didn’t get to sleep at the hotel Monday night until about 10 p.m.
“We hit this bed and everybody was out,” Rogerson said. “The dogs didn’t even move until this morning.”
Searching for home
Rogerson said that she will continue searching for a permanent place to live every day until she finds something. She’s been contacted about some potential openings at a local mobile home park, but nothing solid yet.
Rogerson could pay up to $670 a month for a place if she can’t find anything less expensive. She gets $910 per month in Supplemental Security Income because she’s disabled, $627 in cash aid and $316 in food stamps.
“If I have to go collect cans, I will do that,” she said. “It could be our fun money for the weekends … As long as we’ve got food, running water, a toilet and they can keep their babies (the two Chihuahuas), then we’re fine.”
The family went to the First Presbyterian Church at 11155 Jackson St., known as the Church of the 49ers, on Monday night for a community dinner held at 6 p.m. each Monday, where Rogerson told the Rev. Lee Warford about their situation.
Warford said he couldn’t stand the thought of the woman and young girls sleeping in their truck that night with the temperatures dipping into the low-20s, so he conferred with congregation members Roger and Judy Haughton, who live in Twain Harte and serve on the church’s missions committee that does community outreach.
“I said, ‘Let’s figure something out here,’ ” Warford said. “There’s absolutely no reason this should be happening in the country in which we live.”
The Haughtons and Warford pooled their money to come up with the $630 it costs for the family to stay for a week at the hotel.
Warford said Rogerson and her granddaughters regularly come to the church’s community dinners on Mondays, which are typically attended by between 50 and 75 people. The church also provides hot showers for people in need from 9 a.m. to about 6 p.m. on Mondays.
Homeless families with young children are not an uncommon sight at the weekly dinners, Warford said. He said the most common place the families say they are sleeping is outside.
“We see it all the time, and it’s a situation that we really have tried to solve,” Warford said. “The people here at the Church of the 49ers are so gracious and concerned about the community.”
Warford said the church helps connect families with available housing resources through organizations like the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency, in addition to sometimes helping provide money for struggling low-income families to cover things like electricity bills.
A low-barrier shelter, which has been discussed at recent meetings of the City of Sonora’s homeless task force, would be something that Warford believes could help solve at least a portion of the problem.
There are two shelters in the county, one in Sonora with 25 beds that’s run by ATCAA and another for women and children only that’s run by the Center for a Non Violent Community.
Roger Haughton said he and his wife were brought to tears upon hearing Rogerson’s story Monday night and helped pay for the hotel as a Valentine’s Day present to each other. They are also involved in other community initiatives like Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that builds homes for people in need.
“There’s a need to get the word out to find the best way to get funding or relief for these people,” Haughton said. “We don’t have an answer, but we’re trying to do it through our church.”
Christina Stewart, a front-desk clerk at the Sonora Gold Lodge, said a woman who asked to remain anonymous called the hotel about 9:15 a.m. Tuesday to inquire about Rogerson and her granddaughters after she read about their story in The Union Democrat.
Stewart said the woman later came into the office and said she would pay for the family’s rent through March 5, which cost $1,260.
The woman also said she and some friends would cover the family’s rent for an additional two weeks after March 5 if somebody else “doesn’t step up to bat” and help them get into a permanent living situation before then.
Homeless families often stay at the hotel while looking for a place to live, Stewart said, who has worked there for 14 years.
“I’ve seen so many homeless people coming through,” Stewart said, adding that most are families with children.
Some of the homeless people who stay at the hotel end up working there to help cover rent.
Kathryn Keagy, 65, has been working as the nighttime front-desk clerk at hotel since May and lives in a room at the hotel with her 3-year-old grandson, Jaxson, whom she’s raised since he was a baby.
Keagy said she previously rented a place in Crystal Falls and became homeless because she could no longer afford the rent after she got into a car accident and lost her job at Walmart in Sonora due to the lack of transportation.
She had a temporary job and rented a room in Sacramento for a couple of months but moved back to Sonora after being offered the job at the hotel because she has family in the area and believes it’s a safer place to raise her grandson.
“I’d love to move out of here and get my own place, too, but the housing market here is just horrid,” Keagy said.
Keagy believes wildfires that have destroyed thousands of homes across the state over the past several years and tree mortality workers staying in the area for extended periods of time have made the market tight and driven up costs to levels that people like her can’t afford.
Grandparents step up
Keagy said there’s “a lot more grandparents” in similar situations raising their grandchildren than people may think.
Cathie Peacock, director of Interfaith Community Social Services in East Sonora, said she sees grandparents who are homeless and raising their grandchildren come through her office looking for help.
“It’s actually a better situation than the home in some circumstances,” Peacock said.
Peacock often refers grandparents raising grandchildren to support groups organized through various agencies, including the Area 12 Agency on Aging.
She said the reasons grandparents are raising their grandchildren can vary from health-related reasons to court-ordered custody situations.
“I think it’s kind of sign of the times where their children are coming to them for help, whether they can’t find a job, have an addiction or are ill,” Peacock said. “The parents would rather have the grandparents take them as opposed to have them taken by an agency.”
A recent survey conducted by ATCAA found 711 homeless people who were living the county in late September, 177 of whom were under 18.
Tamara Dockstader, housing resources director for ATCAA, said homeless families with children are often referred to her for assistance through the county Social Services Department or through walk-ins.
Some parents who are unemployed are eligible for help through CalWORKS, the state’s welfare-to-work program, while others have parents who are working but don’t earn enough to afford a place.
Those working families who are homeless could be eligible for ATCAA’s rapid rehousing program that’s funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The program helps people find housing and cover the deposit and sometimes rent for the first couple of months depending on the circumstances. However, families and individuals must have a household income that’s lower than HUD’s threshold to receive the assistance.
Dockstader said the threshold, which varies depending on the number of people in the household, can be a barrier in particular for residents of Tuolumne County because it has the lowest threshold of all four counties the agency serves.
The reason why the allowed income to qualify is the lowest in Tuolumne County is because the median household income is the lowest of all four counties served by ATCAA, which includes Amador, Calaveras and Mariposa.
Tuolumne County’s average median household income as estimated by HUD is $60,200, compared with $70,900 in Amador County, $69,200 in Calaveras County, and $65,500 in Mariposa County.
“It’s kind of an ugly black eye,” Dockstader said. “The rentals are about the same price (in all four counties), the cost of living is similar, but the fact is I can’t help as many people because our thresholds are too low.”
Dockstader said she helped 14 families find housing in January and nine so far this month. She said the rental market has opened up some since summer, but it’s expected to tighten again as the weather gets warmer.
One of the rapid rehousing cases that Dockstader worked on this week was a pregnant mother with two children ages 8 and 2.
During the homeless survey in September, public schools in the county reported a total of 61 students whom they knew were homeless. Dockstader said about 70 percent of them were living in cars, sleeping in someone’s garage, or in a shed.
Dockstader said that an additional four boys who attend high schools in the county have been identified as homeless since the September survey.
She added that ATCAA is sometimes unable to shelter homeless children under 18 because they need permission from the parents, some of whom decline to give permission because they would no longer receive the same level of government assistance.
“We ran into that with a young man who was 17 and had graduated from high school early and was going to college, but we couldn’t put him in a shelter because his parents wouldn’t sign off,” Dockstader said. “It was heartbreaking beyond belief.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.