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Little known program in Ventura County plays matchmaker, helping people find affordable housing

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KCLU
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Richard Hernandez, his daughter, and grandson have an apartment in Simi Valley thanks to the efforts of a United Way program.

Effort run by United Way of Ventura County helped get nearly 200 people, including 50 children, into permanent housing during the last three years.

A little known program is making some big things happen for some of Ventura County’s homeless, and housing insecure people.

The United Way program plays matchmaker, connecting people eligible for aid with landlords to get them into hard to find available low income housing units.  The effort is only about three years old, but has helped get nearly 200 people into permanent housing.

Richard Hernandez is proudly showing us his Simi Valley apartment. It’s a nice two bedroom, two bath unit in a complex just off of Cochran Street. The 75-year-old veteran shares the apartment with his daughter, and her five-year-old son.

It’s a big change from where the three of them were living a year ago. The daughter, and her son were close to being homeless during the pandemic until a non-profit program got the three of them temporary housing in a Newbury Park motel.

"It was right in the beginning of COVID," said Hernandez. "I housed my daughter with me. We had over a year there at the hotel. We had only one large room there, and a bathroom."

The United Way of Ventura County stepped up to help. It has something called the Landlord Engagement Program, which connects people eligible for government housing assistance with places which have available housing. The relatively new program is having big success, even though most people in the community have never heard of it.

Carie Bristow is the United Way’s Manager of Homeless Initiatives with the Landlord Engagement Program.

"Most people say they've heard of the United Way, but never heard of the Landlord Engagement Program," said Bristow.

Its mission is to increase the housing stock in Ventura County to help those in need, by working with landlords. Even after someone becomes qualified for government aid, finding affordable housing can be tough in the county's limited housing market.

Bristow said while the program is only a few years old, it has a solid record of helping to get people into housing. She says 188 people, including 50 children are now in permanent housing due to their efforts.

In the case of Richard Hernandez, the Simi Valley man and his family needed help. He was a probation officer, and then worked in construction before retiring about a decade ago. He, and his family moved to Jamaica to do volunteer work. But, they ended up back in Ventura County. His daughter was struggling financially, so Hernandez, his daughter, and grandson wound up together.

He talks about what it was like seeing their new apartment for the first time.

"It was an eye opener... we couldn't believe it... the size... we had two bathrooms," sand Hernandez. "I had my own private bathroom."

Bristow said the family’s case was a complicated one, but a lot of organizations came together to make it happen. She said a lot of what they do is working with multiple government and non-profit agencies to get an individual, or a family into housing.

Bristow said it’s things like what they were able to do for the Hernandez family which make the hard work worthwhile.

"It's so powerful to ring someone's doorbell, or knock on their door for the first time," said Bristow. "It's one of the coolest feelings."

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.