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The Sandoval Garcia family recounts their struggle to find housing in a July 20 interview, three months after a fire at their Citrus Heights apartment. // M. Hazlip

By Sara Beth Williams–
Three months ago, the Sandoval Garcia family lost everything in a fire at their Citrus Heights apartment, leaving them homeless while in search of housing.

The family of five, including a 16-year-old former San Juan High School student, a middle schooler, and an elementary school student, endured a fire in their second-story apartment near Sunrise Mall. The April 13 blaze took the lives of two family dogs and also resulted in minor injuries, according to a Sentinel report at the time.

From April: Family loses everything in Citrus Heights apartment blaze

Since the incident, the family has struggled to find permanent housing, while receiving help from the nonprofit Citrus Heights Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART) and a “Families Living in Transition” program through the San Juan Unified School District.

McKinney-Vento Liaison Lucia Rodriguez-V, who works with the school district on behalf of families who lack regular or adequate nighttime residence, spoke with The Sentinel on behalf of the Sandoval Garcia family.

“They didn’t have proof of income or rental history,” said Rodriguez-V, retelling the family’s struggle to find housing.

HART Board of Directors member Kaylon McBride, together with the school’s liaison, have been assisting the Sandoval Garcia family in finding housing. “We try to put together a pre-screening [rental] package that they can hand over to property managers to try to reduce unnecessary applications that might get denied,” said McBride.

When initial local financial assistance ran out, Rodriguez-V said the family found camping in Colfax, but then had to commute to Citrus Heights to work and the cost of gas and other necessities added up. Later, the family was able to secure camping at Folsom Lake.

The day before the family was scheduled to meet with another landlord, the family was evicted from their Folsom Lake campsite. “They were given an hour to leave,” said Rodriguez-V. She relayed the feelings of the mother: “She said, ‘I don’t really care how people treat me, but to be cruel to my kids is what really hurts.’”

“I get it, they’ve got rules,” said McBride. “One of you has to have a current ID, but if one of those were lost in the fire, and you haven’t had time to get one yet, it’s very difficult.”

A phone call from The Sentinel to the Folsom Lake Ranger Station on July 19 resulted in a park representative stating that specific information about eviction incidents could not be provided. However, the representative said any type of illegal activity can result in eviction from the campgrounds.

According to the Folsom Lake Sector Office, camping at the lake costs $33 per night and campers are given a seven-day limit per campsite and may not camp for more than 30 days in a calendar year. McBride also explained that campers must have valid identification and up-to-date car registration tags while camping.

Earlier this month, with the help of a connection through friends, the family finally found a landlord who agreed to rent to them.

“Now we are just working with different grants to acquire deposits and first month’s rent,” said Rodriguez-V.

While the Sandoval Garcia family has been given some furniture from friends and other contacts, the family of five is still in need of things like clothes, and beds for the kids’ rooms. “They are really starting from scratch. All of their money they could save got spent on hotels and gas,” said Rodriguez-V.

Rodriguez-V and McBride both work with multiple families and say convey it has been hard for many to find new housing, not just the Sandoval Garcia family.

“It’s a bigger reflection of what’s going on. There were a lot of scammers,” said Rodriguez V.

“The face of homeless is not one stereotype,” added McBride. “This was a family of five that paid their rent on time every month for many years.”

Editor’s note: The Sentinel has confirmed an official donation link to help the Sandoval Garcia family has been set up through HART’s website at citrusheightshart.org/donate. A link on that page lets donors click “Make a Special Donation to Support the Sandoval Garcia Family.”

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