For three months, home for the Equihua family has been an Oxnard homeless shelter.
But on Christmas Eve, the Equihuas spent the night at one of Ventura's finest hotels. They were among eight families--five of them homeless, including three recently homeless families--invited to stay at the Pierpont Inn.
"I think it's going to be nice because we're going to be together like a family," said Isidro Equihua, 29, as he cradled his infant daughter in his arms.
As guests of the hotel, the 13 adults and 28 children stayed in hotel rooms that ordinarily cost $66 to $100 a night, hotel supervisor Tanya Harris said. The families' 24-hour stay includes a continental breakfast on Christmas morning, a turkey dinner at noon and dozens of gifts donated by hotel employees.
The well-appointed rooms feature color television with movie channels and some have ocean views and two bathrooms.
The meals and eight hotel rooms used by the families were donated by the inn, said Rod Houck, a member of the family that owns the hotel. Houck added that the hotel's other 62 rooms were booked by paying guests on Christmas Eve.
The hotel reserved a private dining room for the eight families. "We really wanted to give them the benefit of being in private," Houck said.
Six-year-old Bernardo Equihua squealed when he saw the bag of gifts waiting on the table in the second-floor room reserved for his family. He watched for his mother's approval before he could tear into the wrapping.
Asked whether the family would open the gifts on Christmas Eve or wait until morning, Bernardo's mother, Rosario, 29, said, "Today."
The Equihuas have been without a home since they returned from a stay in their native Mexico, Isidro Equihua said.
It takes a lot of money to get an apartment, Isidro Equihua said. He recently found part-time work as an upholsterer and hopes to work full time so the family can again afford a home.
Tonight the Equihuas and the other four homeless families in the group will go back to their beds at the Zoe Christian Center shelter in Oxnard.
"But you know, it's not forever," Equihua said.
Houck acknowledged that the hotel visit would not solve the problems of families such as the Equihuas.
But "it does take away some of the pain for a day, which is a start," he said, adding that he hopes the Pierpont Inn's donation will spur other hotels and restaurants to open their doors to the needy.
"Is it a Band-Aid?" Houck asked. "The immediate thing is it's making Christmas a little merrier for these people."
Houck said the idea of treating homeless families to a Christmas at the hotel met resistance from the director of Project Understanding, which runs a shelter in Ventura. The organization's director was concerned that it would be a shock for families to go from the comfort of the hotel back to the shelter, Houck said.
As a result, the charity suggested that the hotel invite three families who recently moved out of the shelter into homes, Houck said. The other families, such as the Equihuas, came on a van from the Zoe Christian Center.
The director of Project Understanding could not be reached for comment.
Ventura resident Doug Glass and his three children were one of the families recommended by Project Understanding.
"When Rod called me, at first I didn't really want to take the offer," Glass said in his hotel room Tuesday night. "I got my home," he said, adding that families who are still homeless might benefit more from the hotel's generosity.
He said he changed his mind because his relatives traveled out of town, and his family would have been alone.
Glass said he and his children lost their home about three months ago when he separated from his fiancee. He has not been able to find work in welding or construction for a year, he said, but the family moved into a two-bedroom home off Ventura Avenue on Nov. 4.
Zoe Christian Center Director Jim Gilmer said he is not concerned that the families that are still without homes will be let down when they return to the shelter today.
"They know that this is temporary," Gilmer said of the hotel stay. "I don't think they look at it as a negative. They look at it as a positive.
"It's a little respite at a time of the year when people can get pretty down."