RISING OUT OF HOMELESSNESS
Mother of two found generosity in the community
If she lived in another county, Nitzia Gutierrez would probably still be homeless.
Gutierrez, 22, was born in Toluca, Mexico and came to the Kennett area when she was 11. She learned the English language while at Kennett Middle School and Kennett High School, through its exceptional ESL (English as a Second Language) program.
But after she had a child at age 16, and another a few years later, her life hit rock bottom after the children’s father disappeared from her life. With no job and no place to stay, it seemed she had hit rock bottom.
But then she discovered the generosity of people in southern Chester County, and the help she needed from Young Moms and Family Promise of Southern Chester County.
Young provides supportive
services to pregnant and parenting young women ages 21 and younger who live in Southern Chester County. She got help and shelter from a mentor there, and was later referred to Family Promise. She learned how to budget and save money and how to navigate ways to utilize services that could help her.
Everywhere she went, she found compassion and aid from people in the Kennett area, especially at churches.
“I think the most difficult part is to think you lost everything, and feel hopeless,” Gutierrez said. “But Family Promise gave me hope, gave me a chance.”
Family Promise helps local homeless families by providing shelter with the help of more than a dozen local churches, and provides food and other necessities. The average stay at Family Promise is just over 60 days. In the past two years, 30 families have gone through Family Promise and have been able to live on their own.
“It’s successful because of all the programs along
the way that help families budget, to find sustainable employment and stay in school,” said Shannon Rivera, a Family Promise board member. “These things bring a sense of stability.”
While at Family Promise, Gutierrez landed a waitress job and took classes, later graduating from the Chester County OIC CNA program, a 128-hour program she attended while being housed and supported by Family Promise of Southern Chester County. The county picked up the cost of the program. She soon found employment as a certified nurses’ assistant at the Friends Home in Kennett Square. She hopes to become a fully registered nurse.
“I like to help people,” Gutierrez said. “I hope to own my own house someday.”
To save money, Gutierrez is splits the rent with a friend, but she doesn’t get to see her children too much because her shift is 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. She pays a babysitter while she is at work. She gets around from a used car donated to her by another local charitable organization.
“Family Promise helped me to budget,” she said. “I have to watch where my money gets spent. Now it’s kind of easy but it used to be very stressful. But I couldn’t do it without all of the people who helped me. I am very grateful.”
Gutierrez was one of 12 local homeless families to join a focus group to help Sesame Workshop develop videos and educational materials that were launched last month. The videos are not part of the daily Sesame Street programming. The families were identified by Family Promise of Southern Chester County to illustrate the many difficulties families experiencing homelessness face and the emotional toll felt by the children.
“We applaud Sesame Workshop for recognizing the emotional toll homelessness has on children by providing resources to caregivers, teachers and the community to be supportive during a difficult time,” said Susan Minarchi, executive director.
Homeless data is collected annually by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the state Department of Education and the Chester County Department of Community Development with the Decades to Doorways program. According to the 2018 Housing and Urban Development Report on homelessness, there has been a 2.7 percent reduction in family homeless that can be attributed to communities who align resources to address homelessness.
Minarchi said the Sesame Street program will be integrated into the Family Promise program. The Sesame Street program centers on a central character, Lily, who is homeless, and she emphasizes that homes are anywhere love, happiness and hugs live.
There are nearly 300 homeless students in the Kennett Consolidated, Octorara, Oxford and Unionville-Chadds Ford school districts. The educational and supportive material provided free by the Sesame Street in Communities program benefits homeless children, parents, and teachers working with homeless families.
Meanwhile, Gutierrez said she will continue to work hard to support her two children so they will never have to experience homeless again.
“Living on my own feels good, but at the same time, sometimes I get afraid because I never ever want to go back to that lifestyle,” she said.
Food and cash donations are needed at Family Promise and can be dropped off at its Resource Center, 1156 Baltimore Pike in Avondale, or made online at www.familypromisescc.org/donate.
Nitzia Gutierrez, right, is pictured with Susan Minarchi, center, executive director of Family Promise of Southern Chester County, and Shannon Rivera, a board member. Gutierrez escaped homelessness with the help of Family Promise, Young Moms, and several people in the community.
Family Promise of Southern Chester County helped 14 families - 19 adults and 37 children - find stable employment and sustainable housing in 2017. Pictured is its resource center in Avondale.