IRVINE, Calif. — Being able to safely live, work and thrive along with her three children is what freedom means for 30-year-old Yesica. To protect her family, Yesica is withholding her last name.

Their lives now cannot be anymore different from what they were in 2017.

What You Need To Know

  • Families Forward worked with the Irvine Community Land Trust and Chelsea Investment Corporation to provide units to families at risk for or experiencing homelessness as a part of the Salerno Community, which opened a year ago

  • The Salerno Project is unique in that Families Forward provides a full-time supportive services coordinator on site to provide case management, tenant education, financial literacy education, with additional online services available for counseling, home buying and parenting workshops

  • The services are not only available to those in these 10 units but also available to the residents in the other 70 affordable units in this project (e.g., veterans, people with disabilities and other workforce or low-income families). This innovative model is the first of its kind in Irvine

  • With a safe and affordable place for her family to thrive, Yesica is continuing to work at her longtime job and hopes to become a board certified behavior analyst

“I had already been through abuse, physical, emotional and financial abuse and I felt very trapped,” Yesica said, as she recalls the moment she took her kids and left a relationship filled with domestic violence.

Yesica said her eldest daughter, now 11 years old, came to her and shared that her then-partner physically abused her.

“That was really what gave me the strength to leave my situation and want to just better myself and the life of my kids,” Yesica said.

Today, the family is living in a three-bedroom apartment in Irvine. She said the family is healing from their past.

“Even though we’ve been here for a year, I’d wake up and think, ‘Is this really home?’” Yeisca said.

A nonprofit organization based in Irvine called Families Forward pulled Yesica’s family out of a shelter and into the Salerno Complex. It’s an affordable apartment project in Irvine that had a waitlist of nearly 7,000 struggling families wanting to get into 80 available units.

Leading the way at Families Forward is Madelynn Hirneise, the CEO of the nonprofit. Her team works with landlords to look past the stigma of Section 8 voucher holders and give struggling families a chance.

“The voucher program is really a unique program because it’s like winning the lottery. Getting a voucher and finding a landlord that’s willing to accept that voucher, that’s winning the lottery twice,” Hirneise said.

Hirneise struck a deal with the organization Irvine Community Land Trust to set aside 10 units for Families Forward’s clients. She said her team has to be creative by offering property owners incentives such as signing bonuses, maintenance repair and financial literacy classes to help tenants move into homes of their own.

Mark Asturias spent years as the City of Irvine’s housing manager so he said this work is personal to him.

“They didn’t choose to be homeless. They’re looking for a way to get back out of that situation and this is that opportunity,” Asturias said.

Back in the unit, Yesica is preparing dinner for her kids.

“I’m able to move forward. I’m able to heal and I’m able to focus because I’m no longer in fight-or-flight mode,” Yesica said.

Moving forward for Yesica means saving up for a home of their own. Yesica is enlisting the help of Families Forward’s new pilot program, which gears tenants toward building their credit and raising their savings to become homeowners. For more information, visit: