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Chrystal and Tony

Chrystal and Tony never thought that they would be homeless. It wasn’t even on their radar as something that could happen to them.  Looking at them, you wouldn’t think so either. The young couple is clean-cut, stylish, and full of life. At the depths of their personal crisis, they actually got kicked out of a skid row shelter because people didn’t believe they were truly homeless. 

image of the tweedie family

At the time, Chrystal was pregnant and they had their 2 year old daughter with them. They’d been sleeping in their car for 6 months, constantly afraid of being picked up by the police or getting a ticket they couldn’t afford. Not long before that, everything had seemed on track. Tony worked as a security guard and Chrystal had a job in retail. They had their own place, a car, and their beautiful daughter. Then Tony got laid off. Not long after they found out Chrystal was pregnant, she got laid off from her retail job. Unable to afford their apartment, they tried to move back in with Chrystal’s mom, but because she lives in a senior affordable housing unit, she was not allowed to have guests. Through different programs and the charity of church members, they were able to get some vouchers to stay in motels, but when those ran out and they still couldn’t afford a place, they turned to their car. 

image of father holding up his daughterFor 6 months they lived in their car, a pregnant Chrystal, Tony, and their young daughter. As these things go, when the car broke down and they didn’t have the money to repair it, they found themselves with nowhere to turn except homeless shelters. 

One day, they stumbled on Faith and Hope Community Church (FHCC), a church smack in the epicenter of South LA’s homeless crisis, which runs a Homeless and Family Support Program in partnership with 211 LA. FHCC provides the emotional, social, and spiritual support to keep their members hopeful, motivated, and engaged in getting the help they need. FHCC is a true beacon of hope in a community which has very little of it, and their care and compassion combined with 211 LA’s resources, care coordination, and advocacy forms a powerful team to holistically address the needs of the most vulnerable. 

A church member, without being told their story, recognized the well-hidden signs of homelessness and encouraged them to connect with FHCC’s program. The program manager called a care coordinator at 211 LA with Crystal and Tony. Says Tony, “The help was immediate. No waiting. Patricia started calling and things started happening right away.” 

photo of little girl smiling

With a “housing first” approach, 211 LA’s Care Coordinator immediately set up an appointment for the family with a Homeless Family Solutions Center. There are different levels of programs families can qualify for depending on their level of need and risk. In order to get the maximum level of support – rapid rehousing - you have to demonstrate high risk and need, and you need a lot of documentation , including verification of being homeless.
 
The appointment scheduled, the Care Coordinator started connecting the family to the resources that would both support them and help document their situation.
 
Chrystal was referred to prenatal care and started receiving visits from WelcomeBaby, a program that provides moms with health education, resources, and developmental support. Welcome Home provided a homeless verification letter. The Care Coordinator performed a developmental screening on the couple's young daughter, and found her at risk for socio-emotional concerns. This allowed her to score high for need with the Head Start preschool program the Care Coordinator connected them to, and she was able to enroll right away. Before 211 LA helped enroll her in preschool, their daughter had almost no interaction with other kids. Now, she gets to learn, play, and interact, and never wants to leave at the end of the day.

All of these factors allowed them to qualify for Rapid Rehousing with the Homeless Family Solutions Center, but they still have to come up with first and last month’s rent for a deposit. Rapid Rehousing also does not cover all of rent – it pays a percent that phases out after 4-5 months, at which point either the family has to be “self-sustaining” and able to pay the full rent or they are back to being homeless. For many people coming out of homelessness, that is not enough time. It takes strong care coordination to help get them solvent – including finding programs they can qualify for that will help provide income and employment. FHCC is working with Tony to help find a security job in the community – trust and community connections go a long way.

Chrystal and Tony have made a lot of progress. They feel hope again that their lives are moving in the right direction, and they know they have the support network to keep them on track when things go wrong. Tony’s dream is to become a homicide detective, and provide support to families ravaged by violence in the community he grew up in. Chrystal dreams of a future in which her children can do anything they want to and never have to fear being homeless. 

 While they wait for the Rapid Rehousing and employment, they are still staying part time in their car. 211 LA’s Care Coordinator is still working with them, solidifying housing, tracking their daughter’s progress, assisting with the employment search.
 
Tony and Crystal wanted to share their story because they know that so many other people out there are going through similar situations, feeling helpless or embarrassed, overwhelmed by the obstacles before them and not knowing where to turn for help. They want others to know that they’re not alone, and that help is always only one call away at 2-1-1.
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By: Alana

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