Raul Anon, 39, a proud husband and the father of two, was ashamed. He had no money, no food for his family, and no place for them to stay.
Anon had spent the last of the family's money on a hotel room.
With hope dwindling, he squared his slender shoulders, gathered his wife, Elsa, and their 5-year-old twin sons and went to the First Nazarene Church of Pasadena. There, Anon broke down and sobbed as he told church members about his problems.
Through the church, Anon learned of a place where he could temporarily house and feed his family free.
Not an Institution
This is a different sort of shelter, he was told, more like a home than an institution. And, unlike most shelters that house mostly single people, it takes families.
More important, it requires residents to save all the money they receive during their six-to-eight-week stay in preparation for their departure.
This haven for the troubled, called the Door of Hope, is a rambling, nine-bedroom building with a spacious lawn and garden in northwest Pasadena, which has a predominantly minority population.
After two months on a waiting list, Anon and his family finally moved there in mid-October. Three weeks later, he had saved nearly $1,000 toward a security deposit and rent on a home for his family.
Last week, as Anon stood in the large, sunny living room of the Door of Hope on North Los Robles Avenue, it was apparent that the gloom that had sent him to the church had given way to optimism.
"I am proud to be in this house," he said.
'Reason for Me to Be Here'
"There is a reason for me to be here. If I had not come here, I would not have learned what I have learned," said Anon, who added that he has become a stronger Christian during his stay.
Anon said one of the greatest benefits has been the chance to save money. "I'm fatter now than I was three weeks ago," he said, hugging his sons, Adrian and Fabian.
The nonprofit, nondenominational home, which operates on donations from individuals and churches in the area, has been open for about a year and gets inquiries about admittance from about 15 individuals and churches a day, said its director, Roy Peterson. Most families are referred by local clergy, and none are accepted "off the street," Peterson said.
To get in, parents must agree to look for work every day, turn all income over to Peterson, follow a regular meal schedule and attend Bible classes at the home twice a week. Parents and their children also are required to attend the church of their choice on Sundays.
Substance abuse is prohibited, and residents must abide by a nightly curfew. The residents also contribute to the care of the home.
"There are rules," Anon said. But he said he told the staff when he moved in, "OK, I'm in your hands now." And the rules are not hard to follow, he said.
"When they leave, every cent of their money is turned back over to them," said Peterson, whose goal is to "return families to productive lives in society through a new relationship with Christ."
Peterson, a minister affiliated with the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles, received his divinity degree from Biola College in La Mirada in 1981, and worked for nine years with Skid Row drunks.
"Anyone can 'warehouse' people by giving out food and clothing," he said. "The Door of Hope is interested in life-changing renewal."
Peterson said he hopes his facility, which he believes is the only one of its kind, will become a model for family shelters elsewhere.
Peterson said that the first Door of Hope opened in August, 1985, in a three-bedroom home in northwest Pasadena and, because the waiting list was so long, moved last month to larger quarters purchased by a Pasadena businessman who thought that Christian compassion should refer to the homeless.
Since it opened, the Door of Hope has served about 20 families, of which about 15 "are in a better position than when they came in here," Peterson said.
The home's three other staff members, including two divinity students, work with the families, teaching them such things as the fundamentals of money management and car repairs.
Peterson said it costs nearly $12,000 a month to run the facility, which can accommodate up to eight families at a time.
Each family occupies a bedroom furnished with bunk beds, and family members eat together--the food is brought by members of area congregations--in a large dining room, he said.
"Sometimes families get too comfortable here," he said, adding, "There is sometimes a little bit of fear about going back into the outside world."
Came From Argentina
Anon said he was full of confidence when he came to the United States 10 years ago, seeking more opportunity than he could find as a salesman in his native Argentina.
And, at first, he and his wife did well, making good money as custodians. They got their own apartment and were able to save a little money and spent leisure hours learning English by watching television and reading books.