While Justin Silva lived in a tent under a bridge, he couldn’t find a Newman food bank, so he asked a community Facebook page for help finding resources.
Since the September post, Silva said, community members have offered him food, given him an RV and watched his dog while he interviewed for jobs.
The support is helping him get back on his feet, said Silva, who bikes about 20 miles each way to work as a server. To improve his commute from Newman to Santa Nella, Silva updated his GoFundMe goal to help raise money for an electric bike.
“Being 33, I just feel like I like I shouldn’t need the help, you know?” Silva said of his hesitance to start the fundraiser. “But I’m glad I did, though, because it really did help me with getting a job.”
With 12 years of experience working in restaurants, Silva said he knew he could get hired and did not need training. The Santa Nella restaurant manager hired him the day of his interview in October. He and his pitbull chihuahua mix dog named Tyson had been fortunate with food, but Silva said it’s difficult to for people to find work when they are hungry.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Silva said business at the restaurant he worked at slowed. He ran out of money, adding he has worked minimum jobs all his life and could not save much. Silva started living out of his car in Modesto, but police towed the car after he couldn’t afford to fix it to pass a smog test.
“It can happen to anybody,” Silva said.
Silva and Tyson then camped in George Hatfield State Recreation Area outside of Hilmar. They lived under a bridge for six months after. Nowadays, he calls an RV home and several Newman and Patterson residents told The Bee they regularly check on him to see if he needs anything.
Patty Brooks, an advocate for unhoused people with the Newman Angels group, said Silva has a lot of supporters in town. The group volunteers to help people living on the streets, Brooks said, ranging from giving jackets or taking them to a shelter.
When Tyson ran out of the RV and Silva worriedly called her, Brooks said she and her husband immediately came over to be there for him. They later found the dog at a neighbor’s, and Newman resident Becky Reeves said someone helped Silva microchip him after.
“He’s definitely been adopted into our family,” Brooks said. “As long as he’s trying, we’ll help him and support him while he tries.”
West Side of Stanislaus offers support
Reeves, an admin of one of the Facebook groups Silva posts in, said she has given him food, toiletries and a rides to work a couple times. Silva does not take more than what he needs and does not like to ask for things, she added.
Once, at a McDonald’s in Gustine, Reeves said, Silva found a purse with hundreds of dollars. He waited for the owner to return, Reeves said, marking one instance he showed his kind and respectful character.
“There was an elderly gentleman whose car had broke down on the side of the road and Justin happened to be passing by,” Reeves said. “He put out a notice (saying), ‘Hey is, there anybody who can come help this man?’ because he didn’t know who to call or how to use the phone. So, he needs things but he’s also looking out for others.”
Newman resident Coleen Frye looked out for both Silva and an older lady when it came to the RV. The woman was moving, didn’t know if the RV worked and would have needed to pay for a tow truck. So, Frye said she checked if Silva wanted the RV and asked the woman if she was willing to give it to him.
They both said yes, Frye said, and she helped Silva clean it and get it running. Her brother gave Silva a battery and some money, too. A couple eventually invited Silva to park on their property, SIlva said, and he does work for them like picking up trash in return.
The community support he has received is amazing, Silva said, especially as someone from Stockton who didn’t grow up in west Stanislaus County. Besides buying an electric bike, he hopes to earn his GED in the future because he dropped out of high school. He cannot wait to give back, he added.
Patterson resident Sherri Heath, who has brought Silva kitchen supplies and recently planned to drop off a dog sweater, said people don’t survive alone. Silva reminds Heath of her nephew, and she said her maternal instinct drives her to want to take him under her wing.
“He’s struggling and you can tell,” Heath said. “But he’s just trying to do the right thing: get back on his feet and keep him and his dog warm and fed and safe.”