Hurricane Irma wiped out the place where Melissa Tur and her twin newborn girls lived in 2017. For three months, they bunked with a local church. Then, with nowhere else to go, the small family was living out of a light blue minivan for another three months.
“The police kept telling us we couldn’t go on like that, we needed to find a place,” said Tur. So they scraped together enough for two months at a place slated for renovation. With the clock ticking, the family of four — Melissa, her twin girls now 2-1/2 Jocelyn and Jennifer, and boyfriend Junior Valerdi — were looking for yet another solution.
“It was really hard,” Melissa said.
That’s when Wesley House Family Services stepped in with the gift of six to nine months of what it calls “transitional housing.” Chief Executive Officer Beth Barrett said the agency uses it to reunite families whose only barrier is affordable housing, or keep families together whodo not have safe housing.
“We give them a chance to get on their feet. They can either save enough money to be able to find a place to rent in the regular market, or have time to connect with the programs they may be eligible for,” Barrett said. “The rent in the transitional house is significantly below market rates.”
The transitional home in Marathon is brand new, but Wesley House has operated one in Key West for four years.
“The house in Key West is now on its eighth family,” Barrett said. “All of those families are doing fantastic and we hear from them often. The Key West family that is there now will be out by the end of the school year, and another family is already on the wait list. We keep them full.”
The Marathon transitional home was made possible, in part, through a legacy from Bob Leiby of Key West. “Bob was a smart, funny, generous and kind man,” said Wesley House Board Chair Bryan Green. “He would have been delighted by this project.”
Green said the agency has been fortunate to have wonderful supporters from the Marathon area, including Royal Furniture and the Elwell family, and wanted to purchase the second transitional home where it could be used the most, in the Middle Keys.
Indeed, the Marathon house closed on a Monday, and by Wednesday the family was settling into the cheerful house located near 109th Street. The twin girls will have their own room for the first time.
“I don’t know how I feel about that,” said their mother, Melissa. “I am used to having them sleep right next to me.”
Wesley House serves about 400 children and their families every year. The services range from foster care, to keeping kids out of foster care, operating the Inez Martin Child Development Center, and helping expecting and new parents with programming. The agency’s services extend from Key West to the county line.
In addition to the transitional homes, Wesley House operates three foster homes in the Keys — two in Key West and one in Plantation Key.
“We are very focused on keeping families together. Even if the children need to come into foster care, we want them to stay together with their siblings as a sibling group,” Barrett said. “The foster parents move into the homes with the children and, again, receive a significant break on the rent.”
More information about Wesley House and its programs is at www.wesleyhouse.org.