(KRON) – Contra Costa County has seen a 35% increase in homelessness since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s impacting families. 

Kamilah Miller, 43, is a resident of Antioch and a working mother of nine. Together she and her husband opened two small businesses a few years ago to support their family. Kamilah Cares is one of their businesses, a child care center. They also had an event-planning business until 2020. Miller even got an associate’s degree in child development, “because I knew that just working a regular job would not be enough to pay rent,” she said.

Four years ago Miller and her four kids were evicted from their home and forced to live in a hotel shortly after her mother passed away, adding an incredible amount of pain to an already suffering family. Miller says the only way they were able to afford the hotel is with the profits from her husband’s event-planning business.

Unfortunately Miller’s husband had no choice but to close his doors when the pandemic hit. This left the family of eleven dependent on the income of Kamilah Cares and the family’s eldest child. Another eviction would mean homelessness for them, and nowhere to sleep except in their broken-down car.

Her husband’s event-planning business allowed her to study and provided a roof during harder times. But like many other small businesses, the pandemic took a toll on both of them.

Miller tells KRON4 that she lost one of her former clients, a mother of three from Antioch, to eviction, “I lost kids (clients) because of COVID and there’s just been so much back and forth,” she said. The former client’s family now lives in a shelter in Richmond.

Miller tried to hold back tears as she spoke about the GoFundMe fundraiser that allowed her to pay just one month’s rent. She also spoke about the toll that living in a hotel took on the mental health of her children, “mental health is the key! Mental health is so overlooked, and so not addressed.”

Sandra Tolento and her family are being forcefully evicted from their apartment, a complex owned by Parejas Properties in Concord. She claims their home was turned into an environment that felt hostile after a new set of landlords moved in.

Tolento began her relationship with her new landlords amicably. One landlord was bedridden due to illness, and Tolento was more than happy to give a helping hand, even driving their kids to school despite being a busy mother of three herself. 

Tolento tells KRON4 that her landlords began asking for more and more favors. She had to draw the line after being told she had to take her landlords’ cat to the vet. After refusing, she began to sense a change in their relationship. 

A new upstairs neighbor moved in and began keeping the family up at late hours of the night. The two working parents and three kids could not get the sleep that they needed.

Tolento decided to ask her landlords if they could ask the upstairs neighbor to lower their volume past midnight, to which the landlord responded by saying they “just have to get used to it.”

A few days later a letter appeared on Tolento’s door. She could not understand it due to a language barrier, as Tolento only speaks Spanish. The letter contained a contract that stated the family could not make any noise once the sun sets or they will face eviction.

Tolento told KRON4 she decided not to sign the contract because it was absurd. The landlord was agitated and began to pressure the Tolentos into signing the contract, though no other occupants of the apartment complex were asked to sign a contract. 

Tolento decided to reach out to Monument Impact for assistance. Monument Impact is an organization that supports immigrants and refugees in Contra Costa County. Executive Director Debra Ballinger spoke to KRON4 about Monument Impact’s mission, “to provide the voice, tools, and relationships for immigrants and low-income families to share in the wealth of our region.”

Tolento had previously reached out to Monument Impact, and they were able to help the family pay for two months of rent. Now she reached out for help understanding and fighting for her rights. 

Now Monument Impact is working closely with Tolento to defend her rights as a tenant. KRON4 reached out to the property owner but have not heard back yet.