Lack of homeless services in the high desert highlighted after kids found in a makeshift shed

Kids were reportedly living in the shed for years

Lack of homeless services in the high desert highlighted after kids found in a makeshift shed

JOSHUA TREE, Calif. - The lack of homeless services in the high desert is being put in the spotlight after authorities discovered that three children spent years living in a makeshift shed in Joshua Tree.

According to a neighbor, the parents, 51-year-old Mona Kirk and 73-year-old Daniel Panico, had lost their home in Joshua Tree four years ago and moved to the plot of land in hopes of rebuilding.

Kirk and Panico are facing three counts of child abuse charges and are being held at $300,000 each. The pair pleaded not guilty Friday.

A representative from the Morongo School District said they didn't have the family on their radar.

"Their children were not enrolled in our district and I don't believe they've ever been in our district. A lot of people fear being homeless will take away their kids," said Wayne Hamilton, Community Outreach Services Coordinator.

Which is exactly what a family friend told us Friday after the court hearing.

"The mom was afraid to lose her kids. If she reached out to welfare or applied for debt or Cal Fresh whatever the program is. She was just afraid. She was always afraid," A friend of the family told KESQ / CBS Local 2.

"I understand that there was an income. So, if they had an income there is a good chance we could have gotten them rental assistance and gotten them back into housing," Hamilton said.

However, Hamilton said there is a larger problem to the process.

"We have a lot of Airbnbs right now which is taking a lot of rental houses off the market. The houses left are at a premium. They're able to ask for better credit records, higher deposits, more rent, and some people just can't get back into housing," Mitchell said.

We also visited the San Bernardino County District office in Joshua Tree but no one was available to talk about homeless resources or services available in the area. They were able to provide a  pamphlet with a list of homeless shelters. Most of them are in the Coachella Valley. 

We were able to find out that local volunteer groups offer free meals to the homeless community.

"Don't be afraid to ask for help. We all needed help at one point in our lives. Come forward, we will get you the help you need," Mitchell said.

Friends of the family had planned to come out for a rally of support outside of child protective services in Yucca Valley. No one showed up this morning, but the support is growing on social media. A GoFundMe page started by a friend of the family has raised over $17,000 for the family in just two days.

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