LEWISTON — For the first time in nearly two decades, the Garcia-Cruz family is living together under one roof, with no plans to separate.

But still, the family is divided.

Miguel Garcia-Ruiz, his wife and three sons have been living in three different rooms at Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston since March.

“There’s nothing to complain about,” Garcia-Ruiz said. “On the contrary, (we are) grateful for what we have.”

The Garcia-Cruz family eats together Saturday at the Lewiston House of Pizza. They are living as a family at Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston. From left are Moises, 16, Miguel, 20, Miguel Garcia-Ruiz and his wife, Maria Isabel Cruz Gonzales, and Marcos, 14. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Among all the challenges of being homeless, the inability to cook their own meal and enjoy it together might seem small. But for the tight-knit family, it’s everything.

Miguel Garcia-Ruiz’s wife, Maria Isabel Cruz Gonzales, is an accomplished cook who once prepared three meals a day for her family. Now, they have only a microwave for themselves.


The shelter serves food at scheduled times each day. Yet, with Garcia-Ruiz’s full-time job in South Portland and three sons in school — two in the Lewiston school district and one at Central Maine Community College — they aren’t able to eat together at Hope Haven.

Instead, they go out to eat a couple times a week. They’ve become regulars at Lewiston House of Pizza, located just a couple of blocks from the shelter, where staff know the family’s order by heart.

Eating out can be a big expense for the family of five, but being able to enjoy meals together is worth it.

“We’re going through something that I don’t want other people to go through,” Garcia-Ruiz said. “The situation that we are living, we don’t want other families to work through the same thing, you know, because it is very sad.”

Garcia-Ruiz said he’s lived at Hope Haven for much of the past 17 years, sending everything he earned back to his family in Mexico. When winter arrived, he would travel home to spend a few months with them before returning to Maine to work.

“With that kind of money that I saved, I send that money to my family to live better,” he said. “So that’s why I make the sacrifice, you know, to be (at Hope Haven), not to have privacy. (That’s) what I did, for them to be well in Mexico.


“And now, even though we are here in this country, we are divided,” he said.

Earlier this year, he was able to bring his family — all legal, permanent residents of the U.S. — to Lewiston, aiming for a better life with more educational opportunities for his sons. But with high housing prices and a low credit score, the Garcia-Cruz family hasn’t been able to qualify for a mortgage and purchase a home.

Renting hasn’t been a serious consideration for them because the monthly cost for a three-bedroom house or apartment is so expensive, Garcia-Ruiz said.

Their situation isn’t unique. As demand for housing has outpaced available units in Maine, securing a home has been challenging for all, especially immigrants and refugees new to the state.

But even as the Garcia-Cruz family finds themselves in a difficult position, they’ve been reluctant to ask for help, preferring instead to work even harder to achieve their goals.

“This is one of the only families that I’ve ever met that are not seeking services and want to do it on their own and figure a way out,” Jamie Caouette, a homeless advocate with the Lewiston school district, said.


Although Garcia-Ruiz has lived in the U.S. for nearly two decades, he has never once sought to apply for any kind of government assistance, she said. It was only recently that Caouette helped his children sign-up for MaineCare.

As the director of The Store Next Door, a nonprofit organization which serves homeless Lewiston students and their families, Caouette said she has never worked with a family more grateful than the Garcia-Cruz family.

“They never ask you for anything,” she said. “It’s always we offer and want to give. It’s almost like we have to pull (their needs) out of them.”

Often, she said, their first concern is whether they can provide any help for Caouette and The Store Next Door.

“They want to give back,” she said. “They want to help us. They want to participate in the events that we do with The Store Next Door … I feel like we’ve become their family.”

Not just the parents, but their children too, she said. Unlike most teens, Garcia-Ruiz’s children are always ready to help, with no questions asked.


“This family is so special, and they deserve anything great that will come to them,” she said.

For now, Garcia-Ruiz is trying to find a job closer to home. He’s applied for a custodian position with the Lewiston school district, aiming to save on travel expenses and spend more time with his family. Plus, the job would provide benefits for his family, like health insurance, which neither he nor his wife have access to.

Garcia-Ruiz’s oldest son, who is studying computer science at CMCC and works part-time with his father in South Portland, has also applied for a custodial position.

Beyond the pay and benefits, working for the school could allow Garcia-Ruiz to access English classes and other higher education courses.

“It’s what I want, besides a job,” he said. “We want to improve in all walks of life (including) education, I mean, to live better.”

With Caouette’s help, the Garcia-Cruz family is applying to Habitat for Humanity for help building a home in or near Lewiston this winter. Beyond that, the family is continuing to save, learn and appreciate what life has given them.

“I will want you to see the difference between the place itself where we live and then if you will see us in a house,” Garcia-Ruiz said. “You will see a huge difference.”

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