Ricardo Lopez calls her the “miracle baby.”
Born to homeless parents sleeping in a temporary church shelter, Serenity Michelle’s future looked grim. The church shelter didn’t allow babies, and her parents, Lopez and Bernadette Ortiz, feared the birth of their child would mean living on the streets again.
But their story, an example of the poverty that exists in the shadows of Silicon Valley, drew an immediate response from advocates and an outpouring of community support. On Monday, Lopez, Ortiz and Serenity Michelle — born Oct. 15 — will be moving into their own rent-free studio apartment in downtown San Jose.
“It’s a safe place,” said Lopez, 47, placing a pacifier in Serenity’s mouth. “It’s not like being on the streets. We’ll have a little more privacy and a place we can start to call home.”
It’s been 12 years since Lopez had his own apartment. It’s been five for Ortiz. He became homeless after leaving his job as a soil inspector; she wound up on the streets after a domestic dispute with her ex.
The couple, who met five years ago at “the Jungle,” a massive homeless encampment in San Jose, didn’t plan to have a baby. But after learning that Ortiz was pregnant, they saw baby Serenity as a sign of hope and a chance for redemption — an opportunity to do better.
“I get to raise her in a different way than I raised my other kids — in a much better environment,” said Ortiz, 39. “This is a chance to make up for mistakes I made with my other kids.”
After their tent near McLaughlin Avenue was swept by the city, Lopez and Ortiz slept at a shelter inside Grace Baptist Church in San Jose. But officials there said the church couldn’t take care of children and the couple needed to leave after the baby was born.
That’s when leaders from Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County stepped in. CEO Gregory Kepferle felt the nonprofit was compelled to help after reading this news organization’s story about the couple.
“The woman is about to give birth and they’d be homeless — it sounded a lot to me like the Holy family,” Kepferle said. “Mary was homeless and gave birth to Jesus in a stable. Here is a family in a very similar situation 2,000 years later. As a faith-based organization, we have to help.”
Lopez, Ortiz and the baby have been staying at another San Jose shelter until they move into their new apartment. Although it looks like the struggling couple’s story has a happy ending, Kepferle said, it’s just the beginning.
“They have a long journey ahead of them to stabilize their living situation and get employment and make sure the child has a stable life growing up,” Kepferle said. “We’ve got a community that’s willing to wrap their arms around this family, and my hope is we can do this for many other families.”
Full story at The Mercury News.