After Family Escapes Homelessness, Fire Destroys Their First Home

Mike Duarte battled the odds for two years and got himself and his daughter off the streets and into a home. A fire on New Year's Day wiped it out in 45 minutes.

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After a New Year’s Day fire at their apartment in Oakland, Michael Duarte and his 3-year-old daughter, Danielle, are starting over again. The heat and smoke raced through the entire unit in less than an hour ruining nearly all their belongings.

Before the blaze, Duarte had beaten the odds. A streak of bad luck had forced the then 28-year-old dad onto the streets when Danielle (or Dani, for short) was an infant.

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In a short span of time, he lost Danielle’s mother, his home and his job. Almost overnight, Mike and his daughter were homeless in Los Angeles. The father-daughter pair found no help at shelters, and often slipped into hotel lobbies to spend the night. But luck changed when Duarte re-connected with distant cousins in Oakland. With their help he was able to land a steady job as a building manager, find daycare for Dani, and after a year of searching: a coveted apartment on International Boulevard. 

After struggling with homelessness, Mike Duarte found a job and an apartment in Oakland, and even managed to enroll his daughter Dani in a daycare.

“If you have a kid with you, don't give up,” said Duarte, who was featured in the NBC Bay Area digital series, No Man’s Land, about single fathers who struggle to find services for their families.

But last Saturday, as Duarte was returning home, he couldn’t open the front door and had to kick it to get inside. Then, Mike and Dani saw the damage. “She was saying ‘daddy my house burned up!’”

After the single dad and his daughter struggled to escape homelessness, a fire on New Year’s Day burned through much of Michael Duarte’s apartment.

The Oakland Fire Department says it will be two weeks before their forensic analysts can determine the cause of the fire. They do not have an estimate for the cost of the damage. Mike Hunt, Chief of Staff at Oakland Fire said, “This was a single alarm incident … the call for the fire came in at 12:48 p.m.”

Perhaps luck was on Duarte’s side after all. He remembers leaving the apartment with Dani at 12:15 p.m., not very long before the fire began. Duarte points out that the door where the fire burned is the only way in and out of the apartment. “We would not have made it out because of where the fire was raging. We would’ve died,” said Duarte.  

The young father says he’s in a much better place today than he was two years ago.

“You can go through all these things and give up in misery or you can take it in stride and build as much as possible.” Duarte said his employer has helped him with a temporary living space until the middle of January, and he and Dani are half way to their goal in their GoFundMe: https://gofund.me/b950619c. Through all the adversity, Duarte credits his daughter Dani for giving him the strength to persevere. 

Shortly after Danielle was born, her mother was diagnosed with mental illness. After a violent episode, the mother was incarcerated - and Mike and Dani were evicted from their home. Featured in NBC Bay Area's series, NO MAN'S LAND, Mike tells a harrowing story of life on the streets with an infant daughter.

“I'll tell her. You're the reason. You're the reason why we're here. You're the reason why I have kept going. She's what keeps me going every single day," he said.

Candice Nguyen is an investigative reporter with NBC Bay Area. To contact her about this story or another email her candice.nguyen@nbcuni.com

Watch the entire No Man's Land series below.

On top of losing his job and home, Mike has to raise his baby daughter on his own. After homeless shelters reject him because he has a child, he gets a surprising phone call with an offer to help.
Sitting in jail, not knowing where his kids are, Brandon hits rock bottom. When he resolves to get clean and be a father, no one will rent him an apartment. NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit exposes the housing program that keeps people like Brandon out on the streets.
A decades-old crime can bar someone from housing, even if they are reformed, gainfully employed and a father with children depending on him. NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit confronts one city official about a housing program that calls people with criminal pasts “weeds” and “two-legged predators” that need to be eliminated.
As Mike and John hang on by a thread, a child care crisis and the pandemic threaten to drive the single fathers back to the streets. NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit exposes social stigmas that make it harder for single dads to get essential services.
Single dads meet to talk about the “absent black father” myth and its damaging effects. One university study finds most children’s books about African-American families perpetuate the stigma.
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