Wish Book

Wish Book: Despite father’s sudden illness, a family tries to get back on their feet

Judney Mombranche, 19, with her mother, Paula Mombranche, 50, right, who she says has sacrificed a lot and only wishes she can prevent her family’s eviction.
Judney Mombranche, 19, with her mother, Paula Mombranche, 50, right, who she says has sacrificed a lot and only wishes she can prevent her family’s eviction.

Judney Mombranche’s family had always made ends meet.

After immigrating to America, her father, Julio, worked at a food market in Miami as a “prep person,” working in the kitchen and preparing food. Her mother, Paula, worked for a while as a caretaker for a local elderly parent, pulling in an extra $100 a week.

It wasn’t much, but it was enough to cover the monthly $950 rent for their beige one-story North Miami home and put Paula’s warm Haitian recipes — with the occasional spaghetti dish — on the table every night. And although Judney, 19, and her siblings went through rough patches, she had big dreams of studying at Miami Dade College after she graduates next spring.

At school, Judney joined a girls’ mentoring program — the Brains and Beauty Club. Somewhere in between introducing herself at club meetings and listening to other girls describe their self-esteem issues, Judney developed a reputation for encouraging underclassmen and leading by example.

“She always took on such great leadership,” said Enose Christmas, her mentor at North Miami High School. “It was just in her nature.”

For Judney, the program was a nurturing safe space. “It actually helped me to have a lot of self-confidence,” Judney said. “It was like a sisterhood to me.”

Then, last year, her father started complaining of severe stomach and chest pain. He went to three different hospitals, but doctors there could not diagnose him, Judney said. The pain meant he lost his job at the market, and Judney’s mother lost her caretaking job when her ward’s son abruptly stopped requesting her help.

Without income flowing in, Judney’s family struggled to keep their finances up. Judney started working at McDonald’s in June, logging more than 30 hours some weeks to pay some bills and keep food on the table. But Judney’s $8.05-an-hour job at McDonald’s wasn’t enough to pay their rent, no matter how many hours she worked.

In July, Judney’s father underwent open-heart surgery to remove fluid from his arteries, she said. For the first time since they had moved into their home, they missed their rent payment.

They missed their payment the next month, too, then the month after that. In September, her father went back to the hospital. The doctors said his heart was failing. Judney told her mentor she couldn’t afford to keep attending the program and needed the time to work.

“She’s not the same, not as outgoing as she used to be,” Christmas recalled. “She walks with such a burden on her shoulders.”

On Nov. 10, their landlord filed eviction paperwork, citing the four months of unpaid rent. The court sent them a letter ordering them to leave their home by Nov. 15. The Wednesday after, Judney sat outside her home, waiting to put some of her belongings in storage. Trash bags full of possessions and blankets packed into plastic covers were stacked to the ceiling in their home.

“I don’t know where we’re gonna sleep, where we’re gonna go,” Judney said. Her mother has some relatives, she said, but they’re not close. “I’m the only one bringing income into the house right now.”

If the landlord arrives, “we’re going to tell him we’re leaving soon,” she added.

She dug out two crumpled printouts, the names of agencies highlighted in yellow. When they got the eviction letter, Judney went to city hall to pick up the list of county agencies that might help. Some never picked up. One worker told her to go to court to try to explain her situation.

Because her class schedule and her job overlap with business hours, Judney wrote a letter instead, trying to explain her father was sick and that they had never missed their rent payments before. She said she hadn’t gotten a response.

It’s hard, she said, to face the holiday season when her family is struggling. At school, Judney has kept up her B average, hoping she will still be able to attend Miami Dade College in the fall. But she has told none of her close friends about her housing struggle, or about her father’s illness. Judney hopes her landlord, who knows her father is ill, might give them some more time to pull the money together for their rent.

“This is the first time I’ve gone through something like this,” she said. A gift, she said, “wouldn’t be taken for granted.”

How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

Related stories from Miami Herald