Janeth and Sergio lived together with their kids—her 13-year-old and his 7- and 11-year-olds—in Canoga Park. Sergio worked as an electrician and Janeth held down both a retail and restaurant job. But a freak incident led to a major derailment of their living situation.
Sergio’s daughter, who was 10 at the time, told her dad that their male roommate had groped her. “He put his hands on my daughter,” Sergio said quietly. “I’m still emotional about it.”
When he confronted the man about it, a fight ensued, and the roommate pulled a knife from the kitchen and stabbed Sergio several times.
With wounds in his side, his lungs and his head, Sergio survived, but had a long recovery ahead of him. And since his son was home during the stabbing—although he didn’t witness the fight—Child Protective Services ordered the family to leave the residence in order to keep the kids. They stayed with Sergio’s parents for a bit, and then entered the mission.
Sergio’s kids came with them to the shelter, while Janeth’s teenager is staying with her mother for an easier school commute. “They enjoy it here,” Janeth said. “They have so many activities, the other kids, the playground. It’s great for them.
“The kids have gone through some hardship, especially emotionally because of the whole trauma that happened with their dad. But the staff here, they’re always here to talk and help them through any troubles.”
Nearly a year after the stabbing, Sergio has made a full recovery, and recently completed college courses in machining. Janeth was promoted to assistant manager at the Dollar Tree and has been enjoying the classes offered at the shelter.
“I’m not usually the person to show emotion or talk about my personal life, but it’s nice to hear peoples’ stories and see vulnerability,” said Janeth, referring to the women’s empowerment classes. “It breaks down that stigma of, ‘You can’t be vulnerable—that’s weak.’ When you’re all sitting down in this class, telling stories, you see some women break down. It’s horrible, but after they talk you can see some of the weight come off of their shoulders. You go in thinking, ‘I don’t want to talk about my feelings.’ But when you come out, you realize, it helped.
“For some women, they feel more comfortable expressing and opening up because there are so many similarities (among us). Especially us being moms; we go through pain. It’s not always the same situation, but it’s the same pain. Especially in the Hispanic community, there’s this ‘Hush, we don’t talk about the hell we go through.’ Some of the women here, it really hits them. Once they’ve opened up, I know for sure the staff here can help them.”
Sergio said he’s struggled with feelings of guilt. “As the provider, I felt bad, like I had let (my family) down. I still do,” he said. “But this place is great. The staff is awesome. For people who have gotten into bad situations like we did, they are welcomed here. I don’t wish for anyone to be in this situation, but if they are, if they have to, I’d tell them to come here.”
Janeth agreed. “The staff, they don’t treat you like just some other person in here. They ask you if you’re OK, and what’s going on. They get to know you. It’s genuine. It’s not just your caseworker asking you what you’re going to do in a month. They all really care.”
Shortly after their interview, Sergio and Janeth found housing for their family. They moved into their new place in June.