By Nathalie Feingold
San Diego mother Cherrie Dosio spent Mother’s Day sitting in her minivan in the heat with her three young children. Dosio’s family has been experiencing homelessness for the past two months ever since torrential rains caused her roof to cave in, making their Encanto home uninhabitable and destroying most of their personal belongings in the process.
Dosio is a high-risk single mother battling stage IV colon cancer, ovarian cancer, epilepsy and asthma. On days that she can afford to buy gas, she risks her health to get groceries and essentials for her family. Despite the dangers brought on by this pandemic, she has been sleeping in the back of her minivan with her 13-year-old son and 12- and 8-year-old daughters for the last two months.
“I’m stuck in a car for hours with a colostomy bag that needs proper caring,” Dosio said. “My kids can’t shower for weeks at a time.”
Operation Shelter to Home opened up in the San Diego Convention Center to temporarily shelter homeless individuals. However, the convention center has a no-children policy, according to coordinators for the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. This leaves homeless families like Dosio’s out of the plan entirely.
Dosio and many others in similar situations are told to reach out to services specifically for homeless families that need a place to stay.
“I have a whole pamphlet of service provider numbers and I call every possible program every day, Monday through Friday, they just direct me to call another shelter. It’s the same runaround over and over,” Dosio said.
She then recited a list of over 30 different service providers that she has called daily these past two months. Different service providers, same answer: they are at capacity or they will not accept her registered service dogs. Most places put her on a long waiting list but then never call back with updates.
Dosio has only one question: “Where are we gonna go in this pandemic right now? These kids can only sleep in the truck outside for so long.”
Child rights activist Loxie Gant refers to homeless families as the “huge gaping hole in the system right now.”
“There’s nowhere for homeless families and children to go during this pandemic and no one is talking about it, no one has any answers and no one is being held accountable. The city is providing tons of options for adult men and women but is leaving children out of it completely,” Gant said.
Gant is currently volunteering for Hotel Vouchers 4 All, run by local activists Tasha Williamson and Amie Zamudio. They have been independently raising money through donations for hotel rooms for unhoused families and high-risk individuals.
Right now, Gant says they are housing 50 people including 17 children, but there are many more who need help. Due to limited funding, the need for hotel space outweighs their resources leading to a waiting list of over 100 people, including Dosio’s family.
“I wish we had all the funds in the world but we just don’t. We’re all NGOs, we can’t take on what the city and county are supposed to do themselves,” Gant said.
In North County, options are even more limited with the convention center only accepting homeless in the city of San Diego, according to activist Vanessa Graziano who started a homeless resources program in Oceanside.
“There are no shelters in Oceanside, so what am I supposed to do with the 120 unsheltered that I serve on a daily basis? Unfortunately, the county has no answer for that,” Graziano said.
With resources scarce and little help from the local government, Graziano is also attempting to address the need for shelter by offering hotel rooms in Oceanside.
“In November I started helping families get off the streets and then coronavirus hit all of the sudden and I was like, ‘where are all these people going to go?’” Graziano continued, “The answer is if they’re not 65+ and they don’t have symptoms then, nowhere basically.”
Board member Ellis Rose of the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless expressed appreciation for the initiative of like-minded activists who are sheltering unsheltered families at this time
“These are people who are having to pick up the county’s slack and that’s exactly what they are doing,” Rose said.
Rose also cites his frustration with the lack of communication between the county and the task force. He says that the task force was discovering the county’s response at the same time as they were announcing it to the public.
“I have talked to at-risk families who couldn’t get into the convention center and needed to go into hotel rooms and I couldn’t even find out what the process was to get those people in,” Rose said.
Even though the local government seems to have turned its back on unhoused mothers like Dosio, she hasn’t turned her back on others in need.
“I saw a family the other day that was begging for food so I gave them what I could,”
Dosio said, “Even though I don’t have much, I still try to give to others because, at the end of the day, I understand and I feel how they feel.”
Nathalie Feingold is a graduating journalism student at San Diego State University. She learned of Cherrie Dosio’s plight while interviewing a source for a school assignment.
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