Kandy Gomez called the homeless shelter every day for five months.

She and her five children stayed with friends and family since they moved back to Miami three years ago. She rented a house in Hialeah, but couldn’t afford it after six months. They wound up at the Days Inn near Miami International Airport earlier this year. Her tax refund was running low.

Gomez finally got through to someone at Chapman Partnership. She and her kids moved into the shelter near Downtown Miami and went above and beyond to keep the space clean. She held three jobs, driving for Uber and working at a Pizza Hut and a smoke shop.

Gomez did in two months what it takes most Chapman families like hers to do in six months to a year. She found a unit in a duplex near Liberty Square for rent on Facebook, saved up three months’ rent and moved out.

Hard work led to place of their own

Now, they have a backyard with an above-ground pool that rivals their neighbor’s. Her kids have TVs and video games, which weren’t allowed in the shelter. Her 13-year-old has his own room and her 7-year-old gets to eat his favorite meal: rice and beans with sour cream.

“It’s a relief because my kids are able to play around, do whatever they want and no one’s getting mad. They have their own space,” said Gomez, 39. “The living room and our kitchen is small, but it’s our place.”

How to help: Wish Book is trying to help this family and hundreds of others in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

Chapman still keeps tabs on Gomez and her kids. They pay 25% of her rent and set her up with curtains, bed sheets and kitchen utensils.

“She did everything she needed to do,” said Kashayla Lanier, a senior case manager at Chapman who worked with Gomez. “She maintained her job, she saved her money and she moved out within two months.”

But Gomez is still missing some essentials: A sofa and living room furniture, closet storage and clothing and shoes for the children. She’s pulling double shifts for the holidays to give her children gifts but could use some help.

Her 17-year-old, Ervin, who encouraged his younger siblings to stay strong in the shelter and now helps his younger siblings with online schooling, would like clothes and a new phone. Her 13-year-old, Christian, an aspiring social media influencer, would like an iPhone and AirPods. Ten-year-old Jeslin likes perfume and purses and wants an iPhone like her brother. Gabriel, 7, likes Nerf guns, and Brianna, 2 1/2, loves toys.

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Single mother Kandy Gomez, 39, sits with her kids Christian Arias, 13, Jeslin Arias, 10, Gabriel Gomez, 7, in the background while her youngest daughter Brianna Alvarado, 2, checks out the camera, outside their house in Liberty City. Daniel A. Varela [email protected]

Gomez doesn’t want anything for herself.

“Me? I just want my kids to be happy,” she said. “As long as they’re happy, I’m happy.”

Gomez is actually a mom of eight. Her oldest is 23 and lives in Mexico. Her 20-year-old daughter is her manager at Pizza Hut. Her 18-year-old son recently graduated from Miami Jackson Senior High, enlisted with the U.S. Marines and is at boot camp in South Carolina.

She’s three for three in graduating her children from high school — something she wants to do someday.

Gomez came from Nicaragua to Miami with her father’s mother when she was 4 years old. Her mother and four of her siblings stayed behind. She spent some of her childhood in a trailer park in North Miami and dropped out of Miami Edison Senior High.

In 2008, she moved to Conroe, Texas for a better life. She found work at a Mexican chain restaurant and rose to manager, but made just $10.50 an hour for eight years. Her growing workload didn’t justify her wages.

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Single mother Kandy Gomez, 39, sits with her kids Christian Arias, 13, Jeslin Arias, 10, Gabriel Gomez, 7, Brianna Alvarado, 2, while outside their house in Liberty City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Daniel A. Varela [email protected]

Gomez moved the family to Indiana, but six months of cold was too much for her children who were used to the Texas heat. They missed family, and so Gomez moved her crew back to Miami.

But there was tension in the households she stayed at, and her family rotated in and out of family and friends’ places. Gomez says she always helped with rent, but landlords weren’t happy with the extra occupancy.

Gomez found work at Santa’s Enchanted Forest and doing food prep at Salsa Fiesta. But Santa’s was a seasonal job and Salsa Fiesta cut her hours. It cost $250 to rent the Mini Cooper she used for Uber, so she has to cover that costs before making a profit.

Valuable lessons learned

What has it all taught her?

“Never to give up,” Gomez said. “There’s always someone to help you, even when you’re own family turns their back on you.”

After COVID dies down, Gomez wants to head back to school and get her GED. She wants to be a nursing assistant one day.

But for now, she just wants her kids to have happy holidays and a better year next year.

“Just to see the smile on their face that they got their place is enough for me,” Gomez said. “We’ve been struggling a lot.”

HOW TO HELP

Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email [email protected] (The most requested items are often laptops and tablet for school, furniture, and accessible vans) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

Colleen Wright returned to the Miami Herald in May 2018 to cover all things education, including Miami-Dade and Broward schools, colleges and universities. The Herald was her first internship before she left her hometown of South Miami to earn a journalism degree from the University of Florida. She previously covered education for the Tampa Bay Times.

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