EAH Housing-managed community in Gilroy gives homeless families a winter respite

Eah Housing, EAH Housing | Arturo Ochoa Sylvia Soto and four of her grandchildren in a 3-bedroom apartment at Arturo Ochoa Migrant Center in Gilroy, Calif., managed by EAH Housing.

Gilroy, CA, January 1, 2017 - Thirty-five families once homeless — living in cars, motels or tents — are now warm and dry for the winter in affordable temporary housing at the EAH Housing-managed California-owned Arturo Ochoa Migrant Center in Gilroy, Calif. One family of seven, formerly crammed into a motel room, is headed by Sylvia Soto.

“The grandkids are happy now that they have a roof over their heads,” said Soto, 63. “I thank God every day for this place and for the food we receive here.” Soto and her husband Paul Espinoza, 61, share their modestly-furnished three-bedroom apartment at Ochoa with five of Soto’s grandchildren: three girls and two boys ranging in age from 7 to 17.

Of California’s 24 migrant farmworker housing centers, EAH Housing manages the only one —Ochoa ­— not run by a governmental entity. Ochoa is also one of only two offering winter shelter to homeless families.

“We love helping families currently experiencing homelessness find housing, whether at Ochoa or at any of our other 100-plus sites in California and Hawaii,” said Dianna Mastroianni, EAH Housing’s vice president, real estate management. “EAH Housing is proud to be part of the solution to providing quality affordable housing to all.”

Ochoa, managed by EAH Housing since 2013, houses farmworker families from April 25 to October and shelters temporarily homeless families from Nov. 30 to March 31. During the winter months, case managers from EAH’s partner, St. Joseph’s Family Center in Gilroy, give Ochoa families like Soto’s weekly groceries and referrals to permanent housing.

Santa Clara County’s housing and homeless concerns coordinator, Bob Dolci, encouraged EAH Housing to apply to manage Ochoa’s winter homeless program. He had worked with EAH before and admired its management of Ochoa’s migrant farmworker program. He thought EAH would be a good fit to operate the winter program there.

“It’s been great working with EAH,” said Dolci, a former Catholic priest who has helped house homeless people since 1993. “EAH has been doing a great job managing Ochoa.”

Espinoza supports Soto and the grandchildren by working construction, cutting bricks for chimneys on new houses springing up all over Santa Clara County. But Soto’s chronic heart problems and diabetes prevent her from working.

Before she had a heart attack, Soto used to work as a housekeeper at a Gilroy motel. In 2012, she underwent a double bypass heart surgery and feels much better since then. But she now struggles with serious diabetes. She has been on dialysis, now three times a week, for more than a year.

Soto took in the five grandchildren, after their mother, one of her three daughters, left them. Soto and Espinoza found a motel room for the grandchildren and Espinoza covered their rent and groceries.

But then the owner of Soto and Espinoza’s home, claiming he wanted to sell their rental house, evicted them. All seven ended up together at the motel.

But that couldn’t last. It was too expensive. Happily, while Soto was looking for permanent housing, she found a spot at Ochoa.

Over the past decade, though Santa Clara County’s population has grown, the number of homeless has shrunk, to 6,500 at last count. Unfortunately, families like Soto’s still make up 14 percent of people in Santa Clara County looking for permanent housing.

“EAH opened their arms for us,” said Soto. “Paul and I and the grandkids really appreciate that.”