Martinez emergency shelter for families faces cuts

Martinez emergency shelter for families faces cuts
By Rick Hurd

The tour with 2-year-old Em'Maleah Reitz starts with her bedroom. "It's a MESS!" she proclaims.

In reality, it's practically immaculate. Toys put away. A Mickey Mouse bedspread neatly in place. Not a speck of dust.

Her mother says she never would've thought it possible. Less than a year ago, the family did not have a permanent home, much less a clean bedroom. But 10 months after arriving at Shelter Inc., an emergency family shelter in Martinez, the once-broken family has been put together again.

The question is whether other families will be so lucky. Federal budget cuts left Shelter Inc., with a $60,000 funding gap in its 2014-15 fiscal budget, a figure that could spell the end to some of its key programs if the gap isn't made up by the June 30 deadline, spokeswoman Chris Flitter said.

The facility's annual budget of $415,000 per year pays the shelter's rent and utilities, as well as its counseling and educational services. In 2013, 144 people went through the emergency shelter, the only one of its kind available to families in the east and central parts of Contra Costa County. Eighty of those were children.

Among key programs at risk because of funding cuts: educational and mental health counseling services for adults and children.

Elyse Reitz doesn't want to even think about where they might be had those programs not been available. "Everybody," she says, "should have the opportunity to receive the help we did."

Em'Maleah, or Emmie as her mom calls her, has thrived. Once withdrawn and prone to out-of-control tantrums, she's reciting her ABCs, counting to 20 and proud to be potty-trained.

"It's disturbing to think it might go away," Reitz said of the services she received.

There is hope. Through community donations, Shelter Inc. raised $10,000 since the first week of April, when fundraising efforts began. The Quest Foundation of Danville, a charitable organization, has pledged to give $2 for every $1 dollar the shelter raises, provided Shelter Inc. raises at least $23,000, Flitter said.

"Let's be honest -- they provide an amazing service to the community for people who have fallen on hard times," Quest Foundation Executive Director Derek Jermstedt said. "Not just taking them in but providing them the skills to improve their lives and especially those of their children. You'd hate to see those go away."

Elyse Reitz's hard times began 2010, when an old softball injury forced her to have knee replacement surgery. Health complications related to her pregnancy and a difficult recovery from the surgery kept her from working. The domestic relationship she had with Emmie's father fell apart after the baby's birth. By the time Emmie was 1 year old, Elyse needed more knee surgery, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and she had no permanent residence.

Even worse, she saw her daughter affected by the struggles.

"Worst feeling in the world," Reitz said. "She had terrible tantrums. She hardly ever smiled. She didn't sleep. No mom wants that for their baby."

The two came to Shelter Inc. on July 2, 2013. Once there, tutors started working with Emmie to help her learn the alphabet and numbers. Reitz learned parenting skills required to foster discipline in both of them.

"They taught me how to talk to my daughter. What a timeout is. Quiet time," she said. "If I didn't have a place where I could have learned those things, what would have happened? They saved us. They really did."

These days, Emmie's shell is gone. She sleeps through the night, awakes with a gregarious, welcoming personality.

"She's an amazing, social girl who charms everybody," case manager Coni Soares said. "She brings a smile to everybody here."

The transformation hasn't been lost on Emmie's mother, who moved into the transitional apartment in March. She can stay there two years until she has to find a new place, a notion that once seemed insurmountable.

"It's a new start, and we're lucky we had help for us," she said. "There are so many people in need. If it's not there, where will they go?"


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