THE BUZZ: Giving a Face to the Displaced

By on May 3, 2016

The H.U.G. Project shines a light on people one step away from homelessness.

The Garcia family is among the 250 residents being evicted from the Virginian Village Apartments. (Photo: wren fialka)

The Garcia family is among the 250 residents being evicted from the Virginian Village Apartments. (Photo: wren fialka)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – As 250 residents are evicted from the Virginian Village Apartments, placing affected folks in the community spotlight is increasingly important.

Neomi Garcia and her sons Ventura and Dominic are the recipients of a “community H.U.G.” from the Spread the Love Commission. A nonprofit providing assistance to local and national homeless and displaced people, Spread the Love’s H.U.G. Project stands for Humans United in Giving. “My goal is to put a face to the people who are facing eviction and homelessness in our community,” said Spread the Love founder Wren Fialka.

For the Garcias, that “face” resembles the face of any young family—kind, hopeful, loving. But the Garcias’ dire housing situation is emblematic of another face—one of desperation that is plaguing more and more families and individuals in Jackson.

In the case of the Virginian Village Apartments, residents were given barely a month’s notice to vacate their homes. Those residents include working people, elderly people, pregnant mothers, children, and people with special needs.

“There is nowhere for them to go,” Fialka lamented.

Neomi Garcia recently became the sole breadwinner for her boys when her husband had to return to Mexico. Her job at a supermarket does not pay all the bills and there have been times when the family eats just one meal a day, Fialka said.

Neomi’s youngest son, Dominic, has autism, adding complexity to an already stressful situation. According to Fialka, Neomi worries she will be forced to send the boys to Mexico to stay with family while she looks for housing here.

In attempt to garner donations, Fialka recently put out a call on Facebook explaining the Garcias’ plight. In four days, she received enough money to provide essential clothing items and $200 in grocery gift certificates. She welcomes further donations.

But what will provide the Garcias the most support is a place to live. “We are really hoping that someone with an extra room or guest house can put them up,” Fialka said.

The Garcias also need a temporary foster home for the family’s dog, Charlie.

“Many other families and individuals are facing this same problem in our community,” Fialka said. She was connected with the Garcias through the Latino Resource Center and the Community Resource Center (CRC). The two local organizations are on the front lines helping folks affected by Jackson’s housing crisis.

But community organizations cannot make housing appear out of thin air. With evictions on the scale of Virginian Village, the community’s need has expanded exponentially. If a relatively smaller scale crisis occurs—say, the fire at Aspen Meadows apartments—displaced fire victims join a long line of people looking for homes.

“We have to put [the Aspen Meadows fire] in the context of 250 people being evicted from Virginian,” said Mary Erickson, executive director of CRC.

Erickson has noted publicly that Jackson’s housing shortage now constitutes an emergency. “If people want to help, the best thing is to donate money,” Erickson said. “We can earmark it for emergency housing.”

According to Erickson, several families had to vacate their homes May 1. They now have two weeks until the sheriff will be called in. “A handful have found places. We found a low-income apartment in Kemmerer for one of our elderly clients. That was tough since he has been here 28 years,” she said.

The next round of evictions will happen June 1.

“People are facing an amount of loss that is hard to wrap our heads around,” Fialka said. But that shouldn’t be a reason for inaction, she continued. “Everything helps. Do whatever you can on a small or large scale. Any gesture, if it’s done in a compassionate meaningful way, is very helpful.”

The H.U.G. Project is the Spread the Love Commission’s first Jackson-based project. Since its inception in 2015, Spread the Love has distributed tailor-made care packages to homeless people in San Francisco and Salt Lake City. Their most recent campaign provided care packages for needy residents at the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

A key component of Spread the Love Commission’s mission is to act locally, nationally, and internationally. “I find it really important to not acknowledge borders,” Fialka said. “We are all citizens of the world and we should act accordingly.”

Currently the organization is comprised solely of volunteers, including Fialka. She says the caliber of volunteer help has been “astounding.” Fialka plans for the H.U.G. Project to continue and grow, working with schools and other local organizations.

“If we can H.U.G. one family at a time, we may really be able to make a difference,” Fialka said, “And show what type of community we truly are.” PJH

For more info about the Spread the Love Commission and the H.U.G. Project, send a message to Wren Fialka via her Facebook page: facebook.com/wfialka. Cash donations are urgently needed to help residents of Virginian Village. Visit crcjh.org/donate/ or call the Community Resource Center, 739-4500.

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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