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Homeless Family Becomes A Beacon of Hope for New Program

By Cassandra Arsenault, Reporter, CassandraArsenault@kionrightnow.com
Published On: Feb 22 2014 02:13:44 AM CST

PACIFIC GROVE, Calif.-- An initiative called the One Starfish program aims to designate parking lots for the homeless. The One Starfish program believes that you may not be able to save every "starfish" or person that’s stranded, but you should help the ones you can.

One family had no choice but to live out of their vehicle. They have been homeless for quite sometime due to lack of work. The Sotelo family had to constantly move their vehicle because, sleeping in a car or RV on the side of the street whether it was in a public or private place is illegal, but it became harder to do after the mother was diagnosed with cancer.

“It was pretty hard. I had to take of everything for her. I had take to care of her,” said Severino of his forty-six year old wife.

“They let us stay here because my mom had cancer. She was dying,” said Monique a student at Monterey Peninsula College.

The family’s RV has been parked in the First United Methodist Church in Pacific Grove where Severino and his 22-year-old daughter, Monique, took care of his wife until she died.

“Every time we would park in neighborhoods, we got cited or had to move,” said Severino when talking about the frustration of not having a permanent residence.

“We are homeless. We used to park on a side street hidden from people, then in the daytime we would park at the beach because it was legal,” said Monique.

In cities on the peninsula, it is illegal to sleep in your car on public or private property. Severino and Monique saidPamela Cummings, the pastor at the First United Methodist Church, talked to the city and let them live in their vehicle.

“It helped because we didn't have to get approached by the police. We could be at a certain place where I could help my wife without the cops making us leave,” said Severino

Stories like this one is the reason Monterey and Pacific Grove are trying to implement a regional program on the peninsula to help the homeless.

“People who are losing their ability to pay rent or keep their mortgage payments, these are the people who are resorting to living in their vehicles,” said Dr. Tia Sukin, one of the main proponents of the One Starfish program.

She said the program is trying to get $36,000 to start and 25 parking lots from businesses or churches to be used for the homeless to park in overnight. However, she knows there might be strong opposition from residents, the same people who would make Monique and Severino move off their streets.

“We are not trying to attract more homeless people to the Monterey Peninsula. The program would have a residency requirement,” said Sukin.

There would be designated spots with specific times that the homeless could park. In addition, they want to hire a caseworker to screen people who are in the program, and make sure all the sites are run properly until the homeless get back on their feet like Severino, who just got a job in Arizona.

Even though things are looking up for Severino, his daughter, Monique is a student at Monterey Peninsula College and will be staying in California.

“When he leaves I’m going to live in a car,” said Monique.

Monique and her father are being kicked out of the First United Method Church parking lot at the end of February. They say it's because the city is getting complaints from residents. Monique just hopes she can find somewhere to rest her head.

“It is unfair. An RV I can understand but a car? It’s just someone sleeping in a car.