Karima Aucar and her six brothers and sisters were nothing short of gleeful moving into their new home in Daly City after a year of sleeping in a van, on a garage floor and in transitional low-income housing.
"I don't think we're supposed to be here," giggled 13-year-old Karima as she peered over a fence. "This is the neighbor's fence."
The teenager beamed as she explored her new digs and appeared far more at ease and unburdened than when we first met in June. Back then she was living with her family in transitional housing provided by LifeMoves in San Mateo after months of sleeping on a garage floor.
"Well, it's like better than sleeping on a cold floor," Karima said last June before she started to cry. "I had to wake up on my birthday sleeping on the floor, and I didn't get to celebrate it because my parents didn't have any money. It was hard."
In December 2015, the Aucar family were pushed out of their $2,400-a-month home they rented in Daly City for 10 years when the landlord decided to sell it. They had few options because they couldn't afford to pay the new skyrocketing rents. So the family of nine moved into Karima's grandmother's studio apartment nearby, but the neighbors complained. They then slept in the family's large van until it got so cold they ended up back at Karima's grandmother's place. This time they were sleeping in the studio's garage. They had to hide like outlaws, getting up early and returning late at night so the neighbors wouldn't complain.
As the kids moved into their new home last weekend, their dad, Shauky Aucar, said he hopes the past year will soon become a dim memory for his children and wife. For him, it's tough to shake off.
"It's a process we never thought we would ever get past. But thank God we did," Aucar said, as he began to cry.
For 24 years, Aucar has worked full time as an orderly at UC San Francisco Medical Center taking people in and out of surgery. He continued working when the family became homeless, but he said it wasn't until he put his pride aside and asked for help that things started changing. He knew his children were watching his every move, and he couldn't let despair take over.
"If the leader gets broken, the rest of the team is going to get broken," Aucar said.
LiveMoves, a comprehensive program providing shelters, transitional housing and emergency placement in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, stepped up to help the Aucar family. Case manager Christopher Samayoa helped the family navigate through two transitional housing situations and moved them into their new home. He said even though the Aucars had their story on KQED in June and many people reached out to help, it was hard getting landlords to rent to them because they were homeless.
"There's a real stigma," Samayoa said.
And, he said, there were other factors.
"Usually it starts when they noticed there was a language barrier and secondly once they noticed how many kids they had in the household," Samayoa said.
And add to that, the Aucars had a housing voucher from the San Mateo County Department of Housing to cover part of their rent. Samayoa said it's often difficult to get landlords to accept them.
That's when Jon Rock, a housing locator for Abode Services, entered the picture and found a landlord who would rent the Aucars a five-bedroom home for $4,300 a month. Now, he said, the Aucars must keep up with the payments of about $2,145 a month.
"The true test is now going forward," said Rock.
And the Aucars are planning for the future. All seven kids are in school, and their mom is, too. Norma Aucar is now taking English and accounting classes at a community college. The oldest daughter, 21-year-old Anshi Aucar, stayed in community college during her homeless ordeal and is thinking about going to medical school. Karima, who didn't have a birthday party last year, is planning a big celebration in her new home when she turns 14 years old.
"So I'm pretty sure it's going to be better this year. Have all my friends over, eat cake and a lot of candy," Karima said with an enormous smile.