Served now serving

Homeless couple receives hope at the Oakland Shelter and an opportunity to give back. 

By Sydney Fong

Michael, Johanna and their baby son have been clients at The Salvation Army’s Garden Street Family Emergency Shelter in Oakland, Calif., for the past three months, but their story is not your typical homeless case.

“We moved here (Bay Area) from New York at the beginning of the year because we were accepted to the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco,” Michael said.

However, when they arrived, the couple did not have enough money to secure an apartment and had no idea where and how they were going to make it. They had no income and no place to call home. Attempting to gather up the pieces, they temporarily stayed at a hotel.

“Whatever money we had,” Johanna said, “we budgeted it to the extreme for [Michael] to have [public] transportation to go to work and have a roof over our heads. In the end, we couldn’t afford it anymore. I suggested we try to find a shelter where we could stay together.”

That proposition led them to the Garden Street Family Emergency Shelter.

“We got blessed with this shelter here,” Johanna said. “All the other shelters were strictly men and women in different buildings, and we didn’t want that.”

Not only did the shelter make a big impact on the family, but also Michael and Johanna have made a big impact on the other families and their children in the program. Recognizing their artistic abilities, shelter director Sandra Washington asked if they could lead the “Homework and Art Club,” a tutoring program at the facility.

“When we learned of this project,” Michael said, “we jumped at the opportunity.”

Every afternoon Michael and Johanna assist the kids with school lessons. They also began an arts and crafts component as an incentive for the children to finish their homework.

“I love teaching the children,” Johanna said. “They’re always so excited to complete their school work so they can hang out and do arts and crafts.”

Michael and Johanna know their time in the shelter is winding down. Recently approved for some financial assistance, they will move into their own apartment in a matter of weeks. Also, they will start classes at the Academy of Arts soon. But this does not mean that they want to stop their roles with the Homework and Art Club.

“If they ask us to continue doing this—even during school—there’s no doubt we’ll continue to do this,” Michael said.

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