Seasonal workers wind up homeless for the holidays
In the front room there are half a dozen kids using the Internet, making telephone calls, speaking to one another in different languages, often Spanish or Portuguese. In the back there are a few young men helping out, organizing donated food and furniture. There is a couple rummaging through donations, looking for something to eat and a pot in which to cook it.
This is a typical day at the Park City Christian Center.
Throughout the day kids come and go, calling the Christian Center their home base. They can’t sleep there, but they leave their belongings in the limited storage space, gaining peace of mind in knowing that it is safe. And they are thankful for the use of Internet and telephones as they scour through the local rental listings.
Rodrigo Ramirez, 23, and Fabian Gamboa, 22, recently arrived from Chile and heard about the Christian Center from a friend who came to Park City in the past. They study accounting at Universidad Diego Portales and are spending their summer vacation interning at The Canyons. On Thursday, they were excited because, after only five nights, they think they have found a place to live.
"Now we are relaxed because we find a home," Gamboa said.
They are hopeful about the room they have found for rent in Prospector. If everything goes well, they will each pay $500 a month to share a bedroom.
"[It’s] a small room, but I don’t care, really," Gamboa said.
They said they began searching for a house when they were still in Chile and guess that they’ve called 20 to 25 listings. So far they have spent four nights at the Peaks Hotel and one night at the Ramada in Salt Lake City.
"The money was " Gamboa began.
"Disappearing," Ramirez concluded.
The boys estimate that they have spent half of their savings so far on things like hotels, taxis and international phone calls. They say they didn’t realize how much some of those things would cost.
"It’s very tough for us. We are two alone, and we know nothing," Gamboa said.
They recounted a story about how they had gotten lost while trying to take the bus from The Canyons to the Christian Center on Iron Horse Drive.
"We took the bus from The Canyons, but we took it the wrong way," Ramirez said. They wound up at Kimball Junction, unsure when or how to catch the bus back into town. The trip that typically takes 10 to 15 minutes ended up taking them two and a half hours.
They confide that their families are worried about them.
"They want that we go back to Chile," Gamboa said.
But they have already spent a lot of time and money on their program. And now they are hopeful about the room in Prospector.
But they were surprised by the experience. An agency in Chile helped them find jobs and get visas but, according to the boys, they had no idea how difficult it would be to find housing.
"That’s what upsets me very much. They never said that," Ramirez said.
Federico Corchen, 23, and Jimena Lentini, 20, have returned to Park City from Argentina for a second season. They had a better idea of what to expect, but have been here for about a week and are still looking for housing. The two met last year while working at Sharpshooters Photography. Lentini is working there again, but Corchen is working at the Westgate Resort this season. Corchen and Lentini are part of a group of six people, including Lentini’s brother Lucas, who are looking for a house together. The size of their group is making it more difficult to find a place.
"Last year we lived in Heber and it was a little bit tough for us to get to work," Corchen said.
Some resorts provide transportation, but the buses would only come at 6 a.m. and 5 and 11 p.m.
"If you missed the bus, you had to hitchhike," Corchen said.
So this year they are holding out for something closer to town. They have a few leads, such as a house on Park Avenue but the house only fits four people, so they would still have to find somewhere for the other two. Aside from the size of their party, there are other challenges.
"So many people want only girls in their houses," Corchen said.
Lentini says she has been calling "every number I had" since September.
They started out staying with friends, but there’s no room for them now. allowing extra people to stay there, friends may be violating their leases and risking eviction.
So now they are staying at the Peaks Hotel, which costs them $143 per night. When asked how many nights they could continue to afford sleeping at the hotel, Corchen said, "Not so many."
Marcelo Janik, also from Argentina, met Lentini and Corchen last year when they were neighbors in Heber. He happened to run into them at the Christian Center on Wednesday when he arrived in Park City. He was thankful that they could get a hotel room together, saying there is a sense of solidarity, especially between people from the same country.
Janik says he will be working at the Stein Eriksen Lodge at Deer Valley, but wants to find a place before he starts his job.
"If you start working, then you can’t look for a place," Janik said. He says if you work all day, by the time you finish it’s too late to call people.
Janik was supposed to come with his brother and a friend, but their visas were not approved and they are still waiting in Argentina. But he says it’s easier to find a place because he is alone, and he thinks he may have already found something in Park City. He is reluctant to live in Heber again because he doesn’t want to be dependent on the employee bus.
"It’s cheaper. But if you have to pay for transportation, it’s the same price," Janik said.
The people who use the Christian Center as a resource are grateful for the free services. Although they have found somewhere to live, Elba Zapata, 23, and her brother Juan Carlos Zapata, 22, came to the Christian Center on Thursday looking for Tim Dahlin, the director, to thank him for his help finding a place. They had their jobs at Shirt Off My Back three months ago, but only found a place to live a week ago.
Pattie Dahlin, the assistant director and Tim’s wife, has seen the problem get worse year after year.
"The kids’ emotions, you know, they’re frustrated, usually surprised that it’s as hard as it is," Dahlin said. "They don’t seem to realize it’s going to be a problem."
David Johnson, one of the managers of the Christian Center Thrift Store, is also familiar with the situation. He informs the kids of new housing listings and tries to answer questions they have.
"After a couple of weeks, people give up on trying to stick together," he said. Or, he says, they end up living farther outside of Park City, in places like Heber and Midway.
While it’s difficult to estimate how many kids are actively looking for somewhere to live, he says it’s at least a couple hundred, as of Thursday morning.
With the holidays coming up, many of the kids are getting anxious to settle down somewhere.
Lentini and Corchen rummaged through the cans on the shelves of the Christian Center’s food bank to find something for lunch on Thursday. They said they will probably end up eating food from the food bank for Christmas, too.
"It’s going to be tough," Corchen said.
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