F. Castro/SFVS

The past three years have been a struggle for Maria Hernandez. Her husband was deported and she was left with four children to take care of on her own.

Without the family’s main breadwinner, Hernandez was unable to pay the rent. As things worsen, she ended up homeless.

For the past two months she’s been living out of a room in a Sylmar motel, where on Tuesday, Aug. 20 — the first day of school for students of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) — she and her two younger kids got a special visit and gifts to help them head back to the classroom with sorely needed supplies.

The family was one of dozens that received backpacks filled with school supplies (pencils, notebooks, etc), as well as breakfast courtesy of McDonald’s, Los Angeles Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, the North Valley Caring Services (NVCS) and other sponsors.

“This means a lot. It does help us in the situation we’re in. It’s a good thing for the children who are going back to school,” Hernandez said. “Now they’ll be able to go to school more calm because they have what they need.”

Jesus Roque, a 7th grader at Sepulveda Middle School chose a black backpack. His sister Leslie, a 4th grader at Lassen Elementary (both of them in North Hills), picked a pink one.

“I like it because I have stuff inside for school,” said Jesus.

“I have something where to put my stuff for classes,” chimed in Leslie.

Living with Uncertainty

A total of 80 families with 120 kids live in the motel (which authorities asked not to be disclosed). The NCVS is responsible for helping them find permanent housing and getting back on their feet.

Executive Director Manny Flores, said the backpack giveaway “means that (the families) feel and know that the community is helping them in this process of homelessness.”

Families can stay at the motel for up to 28 days before they transition – in the best of cases to permanent housing – or to other motels. They can be in motels for up to a year.

NCVS tries to make these stays as comfortable as possible.

Many of the units don’t have kitchens, so the agency provides 300 meals a week. They also organize movie nights and other activities.

“Safety is an issue, food is another,” said Flores, who admitted that sometimes the families are placed in motels where prostitution and other criminal activities are present due to a lack of availability in other locations.

“Helping families”

Rodriguez said she secured $500,000 to help these families, creating a resource center for them in North Hills with case management and other services.

The idea is to “help get families back on their feet,” Rodriguez said, noting that “living in a motel is a difficult environment” for them.

Linda Figueroa — with two babies and a three-year-old as well as a younger sister to take care of — can attest to the difficulty. She lost her job, and for the past four months has been bouncing from place to place.

On Tuesday, she got up early to take her kids to school in Newhall before returning to the motel, where she picked up a backpack for her oldest child.

“It’s very hard to be in this situation with them,” Figueroa said. “At least we have a place to live in for a while.”

Figueroa hopes to get a job and provide “something more stable in an affordable area.”

The NCVS Resource Center is located at the North Hills United Methodist Church, 15453 Rayen Street in North Hills. For more information, call (818) 894-0483.