The decision was made — Claudia Campos and her eight-year-old son Jimmy would stay at Simonka Place women’s shelter in Keizer. Her husband, Oscar, and their 14-year-old son AJ would sleep on the streets.
The Campos family had been homeless for over a month, but they’d been able to keep the children from sleeping outside until July of last year.
In Marion County, there are few shelters that will take full families. And they frequently come with waiting lines weeks or months long.
Many families have to decide whether it’s better to split up, especially when they have sons between the ages of 12 and 18 — they are too old to stay at the women’s and family shelters, but too young to stay at the men’s shelters.
“When you risk not having your kids with you — or knowing you don’t have a place for them to sleep at night — it takes over your mind,” Claudia Campos said. “You feel like, ‘Oh my God, I’m useless.'”
There are currently 11 families staying at the shelter. The 12th slot is saved for emergency, last-minute situations. Families are expected to stay about six months, but that can vary by situation.
Oscar and Claudia said more shelters in the area should take entire families and expand their services.
“There are a lot of families out there going through the same thing; they’re separated from their kids,” Claudia said. “It’s overwhelming and it’s very difficult to … leave them with someone else.”
She said shelters also need to provide more resources to help them become self-sufficient.
At St. Joseph’s, Claudia has been able to train for office work and learn how to apply for future positions. She’s also learning how to save money and budget their expenses.
“Other shelters, they tell you about the resources, but they don’t help you,” Oscar said. At St. Joseph, “they tell you about the resources and they push you.
“They make you do something (for) yourself,” he said. “They push you … to do better.”
Claudia and Oscar have tried to focus on the things that bring them and their children joy as they transition to more permanent housing.
Oscar loves to cook and Claudia likes to bake. AJ is a music enthusiast — he plays some piano, percussion for his high school band and the guitar, which he taught himself by watching YouTube videos.
Jimmy loves all things Lego. He likes to build a spaceship, take it apart and build it again in a new way. And while he said he isn’t a master quite yet, he loves to play Minecraft.
“Sometimes people outside don’t understand what it means to not have a home,” Claudia said. “Even if we don’t have a permanent house … we try to do everything (we can) so the kids know we are here with them, that we’re never gonna leave them.”