In her 14 months as Mission Viejo’s first Quality of Life Deputy, Dana Chaney has experienced success in helping people with issues associated with homelessness.
On the flip side, some of the people she has reached out to have accepted her help, but ended up back on the street.
Others have refused any assistance offered by Chaney, an 11-year veteran of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department whose job is to proactively address the needs of the homeless community in Mission Viejo, the largest city the OCSD contracts with for police services.
Chaney recently experienced one of her biggest successes: helping a family that fell on hard times because of a medical issue get into temporary emergency housing.
“It’s been really rewarding to follow them through this,” Chaney said of Tamara and Cory Winston, who are in their 40s, and their three children, Zane, 9, Blaze, 4, and Piper, 2.
“The kids are sweet,” Chaney said. “You can just tell how thankful the entire family is.”
Tamara, who grew up in the Mission Viejo area, and Cory Winston used to have stable incomes and retirement accounts. Tamara was a licensed insurance agent. Cory was on the dean’s list getting his bachelor’s degree in psychology.
But after giving birth to Piper, Tamara had medical complications and had to stop working. The couple had to tap their savings and 401k. Soon they were living paycheck to paycheck after using up all of their savings to get by.
Tamara tried moving to Utah for a short while with her children because the cost of living was less expensive there than in Orange County. Cory stayed in O.C. but had to quit school and work odd jobs to support his family.
Tamara and the children eventually moved back to California and were able to live with Cory’s mother in Los Angeles for a short time.
But for the last 1½ years, the family has been living out of an SUV.
Using a hotel voucher last Christmas, the Winstons enjoyed some semblance of the holiday spirit. The children were able to visit Santa Claus, who was delivering toys to kids near the hotel.
Then it was back to their routine of living out of a car.
In March, Chaney made contact with the Winstons in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Mission Viejo. She was accompanied by Sara Miles, a program manager at Mercy House, which provides housing and comprehensive supportive services for a variety of homeless populations.
Cory has been taking construction jobs in south Orange County to help pay the family’s bills.
Chaney and Miles were able to work with the Winstons to get them to qualify for emergency housing. A few weeks ago, they moved into a temporary home.
Family Assistance Ministries (FAM), a nonprofit that helps prevent hunger and homelessness, played a huge role in getting the Winstons into housing, Chaney said.
Sylvia Ruiz, a case manager at FAM, continues to assist the family in the hopes of getting them into permanent housing, Chaney said.
On April 2, Chaney met up with the Winstons at FAM to give them items donated by the Mission Viejo Police Foundation and City of Mission Viejo employees. The Winstons received such items as blankets, pillows, laundry detergent, and gift cards.
“They are forever appreciative of us taking the time to give them a better quality of life,” Chaney said.
OCSD Lt. Quyen Vuong, chief of police services for Mission Viejo, praised Chaney and the various people who collaborate with her.
“These stories make our efforts worthwhile and give us all hope that the system can sometimes work the way it’s supposed to,” Vuong said. “This is a great example of outreach and compassion.”