City comes to a desperate family’s aid The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

City comes to a desperate family’s aid

City comes to a desperate family’s aid

By Jim Walsh
Tribune Staff Writer

Without question, Pam and Andrew Anderson did the right thing when they obtained custody of their four grandchildren in Georgia, even though they had little to share.

The children’s mother and father were in prison on drug and other charges. The kids – ages 5,7,8 and 10 – needed help.

But a short time later, they and their grandparents also desperately needed help.

In July, after returning home to Arizona, the family wound up living in a squalid East Mesa motel known as a hangout for drug addicts and prostitutes. Rent was eating away the grandparents’ limited disability income.

Homelessness seemed inevitable as Andrew Anderson penned an email to the Mesa Tribune in a desperate cry for help.

“Homelessness isn’t just something that happens to “other” people. Rather than being spent relaxing, retirement too often is spent raising grandchildren, looking for a safe place to sleep at night for us all. Older disabled people like ourselves are more vulnerable, putting at greater risk of harm or death in our situation,’’ he wrote.

“What do we say? How do we explain to our 4 grandchildren that we are now homeless and have no place to live?”

But after a phone call by the Tribune and a string of emails to Deputy Mesa City Manager Natalie Lewis, the Andersons found hope – and a home.

Lewis looked at the Andersons as exactly the sort of needy family that the Mesa Cares program should help as much as possible to prevent homelessness – a priority of Mesa City Council as it apportioned the $90 million it received in federal pandemic relief money.

“They have been a major blessing for us,’’ Pam Anderson said of Lewis and the other city officials who came to her family’s rescue. “It’s been a Godsend for us.’’

“We’re in a good place. We’re struggling, but we’ll get there, by the grace of God,’’ she said. “The kids are happy. We’re getting there.’’

Lewis said that helping families like the Andersons makes her job gratifying, realizing that all the programs she supervises eventually translate into helping people in need to improve their lives.

“We’re very proud of it. It’s really wonderful to know how we have helped this family,’’ Lewis said. “I think they are a very deserving family.’’

Lewis said the city plans to collaborate with Mesa Public Schools to help more struggling families.

The first major step of this collaboration already is paying off for the Andersons.

Pam Anderson said she was happy when she registered the three oldest children for school and received three laptops from MPS for online.

Mesa spent about $7 million of its pandemic funds to purchase 9,500 laptops for elementary school students who previously had no access to those devices for online learning.

“I’m hoping this helps tremendously,’’ said Pam Anderson, who had no idea how or why the laptops were available – but was thankful that her first, second and sixth-grader grandkids all received one. 

Homeless families are “the invisible homeless,’’ Lewis said, because they often hide from authorities, living in cars and on the margins of society.

She said the schools, which already provide vital breakfasts and lunches to poor children, are often viewed as a bit less threatening.

“We’re going to be working with MPS to create a program to help more families,’’ Lewis said.

In response to the Anderson’s needs, Lewis assigned Mary Brandon, community services and housing deputy director – whom she described as “the most compassionate person I’ve ever met” – to act as the Anderson’s advocate, steering them to a variety of services available directly from Mesa and social service agencies.

Brandon said her heart went out to the family immediately, especially after the Andersons had found a rental house on their own and scraped together the bare minimum to move in.

Brandon is working with Mesa Community Action Network, known as Mesa CAN, a program run in conjunction with A New Leaf, to get them the remaining $100 they need for their Salt River Project Security deposit and also up to two months’ rent. The funding comes from a variety of federal sources.

Brandon said she knew her efforts were more than worthwhile when Pam Anderson passed along a telling comment from her 11-year-old granddaughter.

“She said, ‘Grandma, I feel so safe and happy here,’” Brandon recalled. “I’m a grandmother and mother. I saw grandparents who got custody of four children who haven’t had the easiest life.”

The girl’s comment came after the family moved into the nearly empty rental house. They brought their beds along and borrowed a refrigerator that had been sitting in a garage from a friend.

Brandon was able to arrange for the family to pick up some furniture, including a dining room table and chairs, from Resurrection Ministries, which operates a thrift store.

“They have someplace to sit down as family,’’ Brandon said. “We’re so lucky in Mesa to have partners and connections. I have a lot of dealings with families who unfortunately need assistance.’’

Brandon said the goal is to keep families, or anyone else, from ending up in the streets.

“I think it’s to stabilize them and get them some normalcy,’’ Brandon said. “It costs a lot more to provide them new homes. You provide for them, so they can provide for themselves,’’ at least eventually.

She has promised to help Pam Anderson with other household items, once Anderson determines what else she needs after unpacking some belongings.

The Andersons also have benefited with the most basic of human needs through the Feeding Mesa program, where the city spent $5 million in COVID relief funds to expand the availability of food boxes supplied by the Unity Food Bank and the Midwestern Food Bank.

Although the program is based at the Mesa Convention Center, it was recently expanded to include a weekly drive-thru food distribution service at an east central Mesa Wells Fargo branch, conveniently located near the Anderson’s new home.

Pam Anderson said the assistance is greatly appreciated because of her family’s predicament. She said that she not only cares for the children, but for her disabled husband, who can’t possibly work because of his medical condition.

Andrew Anderson is disabled because of a medical history featuring a long list of life-threatening conditions. He said in his email that he suffered a massive heart attack and lost a kidney to cancer. He also suffers from Alzheimer’s and lupus.

Although the Andersons do not believe they have had COVID-19, they are part of a population heavily impacted by the recession spawned by the coronavirus.

Lewis said the deadly virus’s impact started out with the food insecurity problem, with city response efforts gradually shifting toward a partnership with Mesa police to get the homeless off the streets, hoping to eliminate another avenue for the virus to spread.

The city progressed to the ongoing Small Business Re-Emergence Program and is expecting an eviction crisis in October, when Gov. Doug Ducey’s eviction ban is expected to expire.

Lewis said the city has about $10 million in federal aid available to help people who could very well get evicted, covering everything from utilities assistance, to eviction prevention to homeless assistance.

It would help people living on the edge.

People like the Andersons. 

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