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An undocumented individual is barred from finding permanent housing, but a nonprofit is doing all it can to keep him off the street

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Editor's note: Lou's name has been changed to protect his identity.

Parked at a metal patio table, Lou is sitting in his motorized scooter. He leans all his weight on his right side and clears his throat with every other sentence he utters.

"I really don't know how I got to this point," he said. "One day I woke up and I was under a bridge."

Lou doesn't have a home anymore and was recently admitted to the hospital. He has Type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis, and multi-compression fractures in his vertebrae.

SECURITY Finding a place to call home and to receive medical attention is tough for Lou as his current immigration status creates a barrier for him. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • SECURITY Finding a place to call home and to receive medical attention is tough for Lou as his current immigration status creates a barrier for him.

At 77, Lou is working a part-time job. He's having a hard time finding the resources to help with his medical needs and landing permanent housing. And when Lou has to file paperwork, he faces a barrier. He's undocumented, so there are a lot of blank sections left when he's done filling out the forms.

Lou chuckles before he begins talking about his life. He was born in Los Janos in Sonora, Mexico, in 1940 and came to the United States when he was about 3 years old. His family lived in Arizona at Fort Huachuca just 15 miles north of the Mexico border.

Lou spent his younger years in Arizona before moving to California, where he still lives in North San Luis Obispo County. Throughout his life, Lou has worked at several different jobs, but the one he remembers most is when he was a manager for a branch of the Dole Food Company.

"It was a very good company, and we traveled all over for work. It was good because the places I was in, I was in charge," Lou said.

After years of contributing to the workforce, Lou is now in a bind. Because of family issues he ended up living on the streets in Paso Robles and later health complications led him to a bed in the hospital. A hospital caseworker helped him seek temporary housing at a Mobile Assistance Serving Homeless (MASH) event.

This event is a one-stop shop for homeless individuals to receive services including medical, behavioral health, dental, employment assistance, and haircuts.

This is where Lou was introduced to Kevin Reeder, a recuperative coach for Transitional Food and Shelter. The small nonprofit sets up temporary housing for homeless individuals in need of a roof over their head while they recover from an illness. But Reeder is hitting a wall when it comes to finding services and a permanent home for Lou.

"Kevin told me, 'When you get out of here I'll put you in a room in town,'" Lou said. "And when it was time for me to leave, he took me to my nice room and he was very nice about everything. He even brings me food whenever I want it."

Reeder replied with a laugh and said, "I've got to make sure you eat."

Traditionally, the nonprofit only sets up housing for an individual with a medical illness for a short time period. Generally, the person's doctor's notice dictates how long that period will be. The current president of the organization, Kevin Mikelonis, said that the program's budget can only help for a specific time period.

"The doctor will typically put a span of time that it's going to take to deal with the malady that the person is facing. Sometimes, it's a couple of days and sometimes it's 360 days," Mikelonis said.

Transitional Food and Shelter offers another solution to temporary housing rather than putting someone in a homeless shelter, which often closes during the day and only provides overnight shelter. He said the program is hopefully a bridge to both permanent housing and a full recovery. When someone is deemed medically fragile, as Mikelonis put it, that person needs around the clock bed rest.

"If you need to get off the street to get over your broken leg or get over the surgery you had, the chances of doing that when you have to get up in the morning and go find somewhere else to go, it's not really going to work out," he said.

Mikelonis said that the organization currently houses individuals with motel rooms and six leased apartments.

The nonprofit is made up of volunteers (except for Reeder, who is paid for his casework) with a $175,000 annual budget. That money is used to pay for temporary housing and certain medical expenses.

For the organization, it costs less to house an individual in a leased apartment than a motel room. Prices of the motel room could rise during the peak summer season or especially during the Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles.

The organization primarily runs on private donations and grants, but Mikelonis said that it isn't the money that bars them from helping more individuals—it's the lack of space.

"There's no shortage of bedrooms in this county. A lot of them are full of collected consumer goods," he said.

He sees the future as being one where people open their homes to strangers, a concept that not everyone is OK with. Makelonis commends the work of HomeShareSLO—a local nonprofit that aids seniors in finding roommates. Both the homeowner and the renter go through a screening process to find compatibility, and a housing situation is set up.

The obstacles to finding housing for people present much of the difficulty in getting people out of the Transitional Food and Shelter program. Reeder, the recuperative coach, said that it's challenging to get people out of the temporary housing the program has placed them in because they believe they've found their home.

"The second biggest difficulty we face is people who aren't as motivated as they need to be in order to find that housing because it's very difficult," he said.

Lou has been in the Transitional Food and Shelter program for a year. Reeder is working hard to keep him in the program, to keep him temporarily housed. The two have tried to find a solution, but at the moment his lack of documentation is preventing him from finding a permanent place to stay.

When asked what he would say to someone who could give him a place to stay, Lou said, "Oh, well I'd get up and kiss his feet." Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.


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