For much of her life, Jennie Galindo has been on the move, running away from one thing or another.
As a teenager, Galindo looked for ways to escape the sexual abuse she says she suffered at the hands of a close relative, years of assault compounded by the pain of not being believed once she told someone.
She thought she found it in drugs and partying. She ended up with an addiction to methamphetamine that she fought off and on for 20 years.
Her relationships with men have been rocky. She gave birth to her first child, a boy, at 16. By the time she was 30, she had three more boys. Only the two youngest share the same father, a violent drug abuser that she ended up leaving.
While she sees her second son, he has always lived with his father, who objected to Galindo’s lifestyle.
Galindo worked low-wage jobs in fast food and retail. She committed some minor crimes — misdemeanor forgery, petty theft.
Over the years, she moved with her kids from place to place — around the Inland Empire, Orange County, out of state and, for a few years, in Mexico. She cycled through family, friends, and other people in her life.
There were times when she slept outside in her car while relatives took the boys for the night; times when they stayed together in shelters.
Through it all, she never gave up entirely on herself or the dream of giving her sons a place to call home and a better life.
Even when she struggled alone when her first son was a baby, living on welfare, she managed to graduate Valley View High School in Ontario, where she grew up.
These things are not far from Galindo’s mind as she makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to pack along with a bag of chips, a piece of fruit, and a juice box in brown paper sacks. She lines about a dozen lunch bags on the counter for the guests staying at the HomeAid Family CareCenter, a temporary shelter in Orange for homeless families.
To Galindo, it’s not a mundane task for a 38-year-old woman who once dreamed of working in the field of medicine. It’s a labor of love.
She smiles and says:“I get to give back the way we received it.”
Galindo’s red T-shirt with the logo that translates to “Love Ends Homelessness” marks her as a member of the CareCenter staff.
Shelter operator Mercy House hired her in August as a part-time logistics coordinator, a position that requires her to do laundry, clean restrooms, make lunches and respond during her overnight shift to any needs of the residents.
Galindo’s gratitude is for more than just her job.
It’s for all the help she received over the 44 days she lived at Family CareCenter with her oldest son Fabian and her two youngest boys, Joshua and Ivan. And the financial assistance that got them into their own apartment. And the moral support that continues while she works toward self sufficiency.
They were the first to walk into the shelter and settle into one of the semi-private cubicles the first day in July 2017 that HomeAid Orange County, the charitable arm of the Building Industry Association of Orange County, opened its $1.7 million project. The Children & Families Commission of Orange County provided a near equal amount of money to run the program.
Galindo had recently returned with her children to Orange County from Las Vegas, leaving behind a year-old relationship that had turned sour when her boyfriend got drunk and hit her. In the past, before she got sober, she would have put up with such treatment.
Galindo’s turning point came on Dec. 22, 2015. She says it was the last day she used drugs. She was 35 but felt so much older.
“I just asked God to help me. I was tired of living that lifestyle and having my kids live like that.”
She ended up at the winter armory shelter program in Fullerton, run by Mercy House, and from there was redirected to seasonal family shelter at a church. She got a job in telemarketing and moved with her two youngest boys to Regina House, a transitional shelter program in Santa Ana also run by Mercy House.
Because he was over 18, Fabian could not stay with them and sometimes slept outside in her car.
Galindo enrolled in substance abuse classes and began to face the pain of the sex abuse that had marked her adolescence. She started going to church. She attended group therapy.
This is what she came away with:
“Whatever is causing you to use, accept it and deal with it. It was learning to accept certain things that I can’t control and the way people act. I’m never going to get the answers I want from the people I want them from.”
Galindo had been in Las Vegas only a few months after leaving Regina House when her boyfriend hit her, she says. She packed her car and left the next day with her boys. Back in Orange County and living in a motel, Galindo reached out to the supervisor at Regina House, Valerie Carter, who had been tapped to run the HomeAid Family CareCenter program.
“That was sad to get the call when she explained what had happened there,” Carter says. “But I’m so proud of her for leaving.”
Galindo was on three waiting lists for shelter when the CareCenter opened.
At the time her family stayed there, they faced a strict 45-day maximum imposed by the city of Orange. That policy is now more flexible to allow for the complexity of individual situations.
Often, parents have credit problems, or they may have an eviction on their record that makes potential landlords skittish. Unemployment or low wages make financial stability a challenge. They need help searching for housing, filling out rental applications, paying move-in costs.
Galindo was paired with a housing resource specialist to help prepare her to be a tenant and find a place, along with a case manager to work with her for at least a year in maintaining stability.
Galindo and her children are one of 139 families who have stayed at the CareCenter since it opened.
That team approach pioneered at the CareCenter by Families Forward, a longtime Irvine-based family assistance organization, has become a model for the Family Solutions Collaborative group of 22 agencies that include Mercy House, Families Forward, HomeAid and others who work with homeless families.
Families Forward paid $2,500 toward Galindo’s deposit and move-in costs for a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Ana. The organization also covered much of her $1,650 a month rent for the first few months.
Galindo has since been able to manage with a series of temporary jobs. Her goal is to move her kids into a better neighborhood.
Her success story is still evolving as she finishes a course that she hopes will land her full-time work in the field of medical billing.
Fabian, now 21, just got work as a security guard, has applied for other jobs, and is taking classes to get his high school diploma through the same Santiago College adult education program his mother attends. He has one baby and another on the way.
Joshua, 12, and Ivan, 9, are making progress at Skyview Elementary and Middle School in Orange, a campus for homeless children that they began attending after they moved into the Family CareCenter. They can stay through eighth grade.
Galindo continues to get personal counseling through Families Forward.
It’s not easy for homeless families to rebuild their lives, Galindo says as she finishes up the lunch bags. But if they want it, she is there to lend a word of encouragement.
“I know there are days when they don’t know how they’re going to do it.'"
Original Story by Theresa Walker of the OC Register, Published October 16, 2018