Battling depression and anxiety, unemployed and unemployment checks running out led Erika to seek assistance with her rent from the Department of Children and Family Services. She was approved for aid for 15 months, but she ran into another problem.
“When I received the first checks, my landlord refused to accept them, that’s when I went to court but ultimately got evicted anyway,” said Erika. “I was put out with all my belongings, so I sold a few of my possessions to my neighbors and whatever was left I put in my car and lived out of my car with my service dog Phoebe.” Phoebe is a chihuahua mixed with miniature pinscher.
At the time she reached out to her dad who was suffering from stage 4 cancer and who also battling depression. “I was able to visit and stay with him for a little,” Erika said, but eventually the hospitality ran out from her stepmother.
She was on the streets for several months while she looked for other options, eventually coming to Camillus House to access the Day Center. She frequented the on-campus dog park and let Phoebe run around.
All the while she was attending Arizona-based Bryan University online working toward her Associates Degree in Graphic Design. “I would go wherever I could connect to Wi-Fi to do my classes, the park, or the library. I would work while my dog Phoebe was sleeping.”
Eventually, one of the Camillus House managers helped get her into Camillus’s emergency housing program. “I was given room and board at the Red Roof Inn, where the clients with animals can stay together with their pets.” This was part of the safety protocols and admission process during the pandemic before officially being placed on campus.
Her case manager, Dixie, helped her apply with Miami-Dade Housing Authority, “who gave me a Section 8 Voucher and I got official approval for my disability,” Erika said. Through the Camillus Rapid Rehousing program, she was approved for an apartment and received moving assistance to move into her own place in January.
Now she studies from the comfort of her own place and plans to seek an internship once she finishes her degree in the Spring of 2023.
Erika still brings her dog to Camillus for treatment and care through Project Unleashed, the free pet care service provided to the community for low-income families and Camillus House clients. She’s able to get Phoebe vaccinated, free food, and receive check-ups. The pet kennel is a unique feature offered at Camillus House. Erika is truly grateful for everything Camillus has done for her and Phoebe. They’re monthly regulars, so even though Erika now lives off campus she is still part of the support system.
“I will never forget this; it’s been a journey. I have only good things to say about this place, it has been a wonderful, a true lifesaver for me,” she said.
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