Photo: Photos By Paul Chinn / The Chronicle
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Citlali Gonzalez-Watson and Justin Watson were living in a two-bedroom mobile home in Sunnyvale with seven other people when their son Daniel was born over the summer.
Citlali and Justin slept in one bedroom with their baby, Citlali’s parents had the other bedroom, and her four younger siblings slept in the living room. The crowded environment quickly took its toll.
“There was so many of us, and then they had different schedules and stuff, so it was just overwhelming,” Citlali recalled. “We were like, ‘No. We need our own place again.’”
Citlali, 19, and Justin, 20, used to live in military housing in Alameda while Justin was serving in the Coast Guard. But he obtained a voluntary discharge because he was facing deployment and did not want to leave his wife, who was pregnant at the time and has a heart condition that required frequent doctor appointments until the baby was born.
At first, the couple lived with Justin’s parents in Ventura County. But Justin’s parents are both in the military, making them less available to help with child care than Citlali’s parents, he said. So after a few months, the couple returned to the Bay Area.
It quickly became apparent they needed more living space than the mobile home allowed. But Citlali and Justin both work service-sector jobs, and getting a foothold in the tough local housing market was all but impossible without help.
So they turned to the nonprofit Sunnyvale Community Services, which tapped into the The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing, which agreed to provide Citlali and Justin with the first month’s rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Milpitas. To keep costs down going forward, one of Citlali’s co-workers moved in with them.
“We were getting back on our feet because we just left from her parents’” home, Justin said. “We just needed help for the first month, and then once her co-worker moved in, we knew that we could handle it.”
And each of them is still hard at work as they settle into their new living situation. Sitting on the couch together with Daniel on a recent weekday morning, Citlali and Justin said it was a rare instance when neither of them had to be on the clock that day.
The two of them work long hours, she on the closing shifts managing a McDonald’s in Mountain View and he at a Wayback Burgers that’s walking distance from their apartment.
Citlali’s family cares for the baby when neither of them is home. They rarely have a full day of free time to spend together.
“Sometimes we’ll be lucky and have one day off, but it’s never the same day, so it’s kind of pointless,” Justin said.
But they’ve made some life adjustments to try to get the most out of the precious few hours they do spend together in their home.
“At night, we have a no-phone rule,” Citlali said. “After we get home, it’s just like: Relax. Phone’s in the corner.”
The couple’s ability to communicate well with one another stood out to Maria Buenrostro, their caseworker at Sunnyvale Community Services. Buenrostro described them as a “wonderful, working together” kind of couple.
“One of the most important things that I saw was how closely they communicated, not just as a married couple but as parents,” Buenrostro said. “It makes sense how they were able to live in spite of the crowdedness in the mobile home.”
Still, all the work can be overwhelming to Citlali at times, complicating her efforts to balance her job against routine matters such as staying on top of the laundry or simply spending time with her child. But juggling is nothing new to her. She was enrolled in two classes at Foothill College while pregnant with Daniel, to whom she gave birth the week before a take-home final exam was due.
Citlali did not seek an extension, instead choosing to complete the assignment on a laptop alongside her infant’s bassinet. She recalled thinking silently to Daniel, “Don’t cry, don’t cry,” while scrambling to complete the exam — which she did.
Citlali has put her education on hold for now, as Daniel and her job demand her full attention.
She may end up taking classes online depending on plans she and Justin have been discussing for themselves. With Citlali’s health now in the clear, the two have started considering whether Justin should try to re-enter the military.
Justin said stability is the biggest factor driving his thinking about the military, given the housing and health benefits he and his young family would receive.
He’s thinking of joining the Navy like his father, who would be able to offer guidance going forward. But trying to re-enlist would once again raise the prospect of deployment.
“One minute you’re in California, and then another minute you’ll be in Japan or somewhere crazy,” Justin said.
Citlali is willing to move overseas with Justin if duty calls — even though it would mean leaving her parents and siblings behind for an extended period of time.
“Like my mother-in-law once said, ‘You have to put your big girl panties on,’” she said.
How to help
For 32 years, The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund has helped more than 150,000 Bay Area individuals and families facing unexpected life crises. Want to help? You can donate at www.seasonofsharing.org. You can also use our text message options:
Text-to-Give: Text SOS to 27722 to make a one-time $25 donation to the Season of Sharing Fund. The donation is added to your cellphone bill.
Text-to-Donate: Text SHARING to 27722 to make a donation to the Season of Sharing Fund using your credit card.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Season-of-Sharing-South-Bay-family-received-help-13496742.php.