Lisa became homeless when the pandemic hit and her home burnt down.

When a family in need approached a St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa branch for rental assistance, it started a journey of compassion no one saw coming.

“They had all had COVID-19 and then lost their jobs,” Steve Krank, Vincentian Service Manager at SVdP said. “They were terrified of ending up on the street.”

Fortunately, protections are in place for families facing eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic. A family impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, that submits a letter to their landlord, and pays 25 percent of their back rent, cannot be evicted.

“At SVdP we work with the tenant and the landlord,” Steve said. “I called the landlord and she burst into tears. She’s living in her car.”

Lisa Chen, the landlord, thought she had done everything right. No stranger to hardship, Lisa survived the 1976 Tangshan Earthquake in China – which claimed 242,000 lives. Her family immigrated to America and became citizens. Lisa worked hard to earn her master’s degree in software engineering.

Lisa said, “I’m homeless but I own two houses. It feels like I worked hard for nothing.”

Lisa retired young. Taking her savings, she invested in 2 rental properties to provide her a stable income. Yet in December disaster struck.

“In December my home burnt down,” Lisa said. “My plan was to move into one of my rental units, but with the COVID eviction moratorium, I wasn’t able to move tenants out of the rental unit I own.”

Without the income of her rental properties, Lisa has little to rely on. She sold her small sedan, trading it for a minivan to use as a bed. While legislators debated how to react to the economic impact of COVID-19, Lisa adjusted to a life on the streets.

“I’ve been lucky, I have friends who will let me sleep in their driveways for a few days, but you can only impose yourself on someone for so long,” Lisa said. “I spend my days finding places with public restrooms with someone nice enough to let me use it.”

California approved the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act in January. Landlords can now receive 80 percent of their owed rent if they forgive 20 percent. For many, this comes far too late to prevent their lives being forever changed. SVdP has provided rental assistance to one of Lisa’s tenants. SVdP is helping Lisa go through the process of receiving State aid by forgiving 20 percent of her owed rental debt.

“I’m so grateful for all the kindness SVdP has shown me. I’ve felt like I was losing my mind, that no one cared. It felt like I was being forced to live on the streets,” Lisa said. “Knowing there are people helping is a relief. I don’t want to see what I’m going through happen to anyone else.”