Laura Sanders woke up Monday morning at her new home in Sonora to find her youngest children, ages 7 and 9, had snuck into her bed.

Sanders said she and her five children were still getting accustomed to the amount of space they have at the four-bedroom, three-bathroom house, after being homeless and living in tight quarters at emergency shelters for nearly a year.

“We’re just so used to being so close together,” Sanders said. “I’m sure that will wear off.”

The family moved into their new house on Friday after signing the lease and receiving help with the initial deposit from the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency.

They shared two small bedrooms since June at the emergency shelter operated by the Center for a Non Violent Community while Sanders struggled to find a permanent place for them despite being qualifying for federal Section 8 housing assistance.

Sanders said most property managers and owners told her they don’t rent to tenants on Section 8, and some have said rude things to her for needing the assistance.

The program will cover the cost of rent that exceeds one-third of Sanders’ income.

After months of rejections, Sanders went public with her story in an article published by The Union Democrat on Nov. 29.

Sanders said people began calling her and advocates at CNVC to let them know about potential openings within days of the article’s publication.

“I felt like finally I was visible and people understood that I’m not a bad person just because something happened,” she said. “Throughout this entire process, I feel like I’ve just been looked at as disposable, or unimportant, or this bad mother who can’t provide for her kids.”

Sanders, 35, started having children at a young age but says she never had to rely on government programs until they became homeless in January.

She previously worked as an assistant for a water-testing lab before having to quit to take care of her family while searching for a place to live.

Despite the circumstances, Sanders says her five children are thriving at school and extracurricular activities.

Two of her daughters, Danielle, 17, and Gabrielle, 15, are in student leadership for their respective classes at Sonora High School,

Sanders said this is the first time her eldest daughter has had her own room since she was 18 months old.

“My daughter Danielle was in the kitchen putting things away and was like, ‘Mom, all of these cabinets are ours’. I don’t have to feel stupid for opening somebody else’s cabinet on accident,’ ” Sanders said, adding that they were allowed only one cabinet at the shelter to store food.

Sanders’ youngest three children, David, 12, Mark, 9, and Annabelle, 7, did somersaults in the living room on Friday while checking out the house for the first time.

People at Sierra Bible Church in East Sonora, where Sanders and her children attend, came to their aid to cover the $890 bill for turning on the electricity and $550 for propane so they could move in.

“They told me right away they would cover it and I just immediately started crying” she said.

Sanders, who recently earned her GED, said she’s enrolled to begin taking classes at Columbia College in January in pursuit of certifications to be a wastewater treatment operator.

“I plan to find some kind of part-time work on top of my classes,” she said. “I have a lot of options I’m planning on following through with and have a lot of skills that I can bring to the table anywhere I go. I’m definitely not a lazy person. I wake up and don’t stop until I fall asleep.”

Sanders said she’s also interested in volunteering or potentially pursuing a career in social work after what she’s experienced over the past year in the system.

She believes there’s a disconnect between the system and people, because most whom she encounters don’t realize how difficult it can be to obtain assistance.

“You need to jump through all these hoops just to get basic help, and I mean really basic, barely surviving basic,” she said. “They’re operating on a whole different level than our actual citizens who want people to have help.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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