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Project Home: Eviction Moratorium A Lifeline For Struggling Bay Area Renters But For Some It's Too Late

SANTA ROSA - Time is running out for the state legislature to extend California's eviction moratorium. If lawmakers don't pass a bill this week, one in five Californians could lose their housing.

"I'm like really distressed, so as you can see, I cry a lot," Ofelia Camacho said.

The statewide eviction moratorium is the only thing keeping Camacho's parents and their family of seven off the street.

"I feel like my parents have helped out the community a lot. We've given out a lot and we feel like the community does not have our backs," Camacho said.

Despite the moratorium, their landlord has tried to evict them three times this year, mostly for allegedly having too many people living in one home.

Camacho's father used to work at a local vineyard but suffered nerve damage in his legs when heavy machinery fell on him. Still, they've managed to pay rent, selling items at the flea market and borrowing from other family members. She is worried that generosity could soon run out.

"Where will they go with all those kids? The next step would be staying in the car, that's it," Camacho said.

"I was safe in my little apartment and I'm not safe now. like, how am I going to protect myself from other people?" Ginny Alanis said.

Two weeks ago Alanis and Anthony Gritten were sleeping inside a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Rosa. Now, at 31 and 29 they're the newest members of the homeless community.

Alanis was working as a server and lost her job when the restaurant closed because of Covid-19. She and Gritten say they didn't know their rights and moved out, out of fear.

Now they spend most of the day moving a car a neighbor gave to them, worried it will be taken at any moment.

"I used to wonder why the homeless were able to sleep throughout the day, like when they're like, how are they comfortable? Then I realized at nighttime you've got to be alert," Alanis said.

Noa Hughes and Sarah Casmith are counselors at a newly formed tenants union in Sonoma County. Unlike San Francisco, Santa Clara and Alameda Counties there aren't as many advocates around here, and those working on housing are overwhelmed.

"Shelter has to come first and shelter in place, we cannot give these orders to people and then give them no support to maintain that crucial element, which is shelter," Hughes said. "This pandemic is gouging open the kinds of divides that existed before in Sonoma County."

The stress of it all is starting to show.

"Hundred percent, there are days where we're both so upset with our entire situation and where we're at, that we pick fights with each other," Alanis said.

At the Camacho house the kids are struggling in school and their 8-year-old is having panic attacks.

Swift action from the legislature can keep some people in place, but the long-term damage will require more than a stopgap for them to recover.

"Children are supposed to grow up happy, they're supposed to grow up in a stable home and when that's not there, like it breaks them," Camacho said.

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