'This is where I'm sleeping'

Published: Saturday, Aug. 31 2013 7:45 p.m. MDT

Carina and her three children make a cozy bed before going to sleep for the night in Jordan Park in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Carina pulls her 2002 Buick Regal into a dark section of Jordan Park on Salt Lake City's west side.

The 31-year-old single mother and her three children emerge from the vehicle dressed in their pajamas. She pulls blankets and pillows from the trunk and spreads them out under a tree. The family sings "I Am a Child of God" and kneels as 8-year old Mahonri says the bedtime prayer.

And then they lie down at the close of another day that begins and ends in a car.

"I wish we had a home," Armon, 9, laments in the darkness of the mild summer night.

It's a wish that doesn't need a shooting star.

This will be one of their last nights sleeping on the ground or crammed in the car — or not sleeping, as usually is the case for Carina who worries about her two boys and 4-year-old daughter Larayina.

Last Wednesday evening the family walked through what would become their new home: A four-bedroom house made possible through Family Promise — Salt Lake, an interfaith alliance that helps homeless families.

"This is where I'm sleeping," Larayina says, staking her claim to a bedroom that smells of new carpet and fresh paint.

Carina and Armon stretch out on a donated queen-size mattress in another bedroom, and linger.

"This is nice," she said of the house. "Actually, it looks better than any place I've ever rented."

Living in a Buick

Carina never imagined she would be homeless.

At the beginning of the year, she and her live-in boyfriend of four years both had jobs. But then she says he asked her to stay home. She said he didn't like her talking to men at work and wanted food on the table when he came home.

Carina said she quit her job to avoid a confrontation. A couple of months later he left. She started a new full-time job July 12 but was already so far behind her apartment rent that the manager evicted her two weeks later. She sent the children to stay with their father in California and placed all her belongings in a storage unit while she figured things out.

Most of her extended family has returned to her native Samoa, leaving no options for even temporary living arrangements. She spent the first night on the backseat of the Buick wondering and crying.

"It was mostly crying and a lot of questions like, what am I going to do now? Just why, why is this happening to me? But all night, I just cried and cried and cried," she said in a soft voice with tears streaming down her cheeks.

Carina said she felt like a failure, like she let her children down. She brought them into the world and she needs to care for them. They don't deserve this. Depression and even suicidal thoughts filled her mind as the days in her car began to mount.

Pride, she said, initially kept her from seeking help from social service organizations. She came across an organization called Family Promise on the Internet.

Though she didn't bother to check in everyday as her case manager Tony Milner suggested, Milner called last week offering a house to rent. Milner is the Salt Lake executive director of Family Promise.

The offer came at just the right time. Her children returned from California and were eager for school. She enrolled them in an elementary school willing to accept them without a home address. They get breakfast and lunch each day. She filled their stomachs in the evening with meals and snacks from the food bank or an item to share off the McDonald's dollar menu.

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