The New Face Of Homelessness

Michael Rotundo tries to study while in his room at the Budget Inn. (Cobiella homeless kids) CBS

When Michael Rotundo finishes school every day, he comes home to a double bed at the Budget Inn - no yard, no neighborhood kids,

"I don't have a lot of thinking room," Michael said. "I can't think straight with math, reading."

"You're having a tough time in school?" asked CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella.

"Yes," Michael said. "I almost failed."

Michael is 12, but talks, acts and worries like an adult.

"We can't get a home because we don't have a lot of money left over to rent a house or buy a house," Michael said. "It's just so hard for me and my family to live here."

Michael, his mom and dad have been living in this motel room for 11 months, ever since his dad lost his job. His parents are working again, and they make too much money to qualify for food stamps or Medicaid and live week to week. Sometimes day to day. Mom Julie can see her son changing.

"He worries," Julie Rotundo said. "He's afraid to ask me for things. He's afraid to tell me that there's a school event that we're going to miss. And I don't know what to do. I'm sorry. It's tough. Just imagine."

Across the country about one in 50 school kids is living just like Michael in hotels or shelters, or with friends and relatives. And their numbers are growing fast.

Although it's difficult to get exact figures, nationwide schools reported an 18 percent jump in homeless kids in the 2007-2008 school year. School districts in California and Florida report an even bigger increase this year.

Many kids lost more than just their homes.

"I have like no clothes anymore because I lost them all," said Breanna Martin, a 13-year-old. "So basically I wear whatever I can find. I'm wearing right now my grandpa's shirt and my grandma's pants. It's really hard not having anything of your own and wearing someone else's."

Breanna is one of the hundreds of school children who land in Beth Davalos's office, who runs the Familes in Transition program for Seminole County Schools in Florida.

"Homelessness affects a child emotionally, socially, physically, developmentally," Davalos said. "Their life is not predictable. They're not grounded anymore. They want to feel safe."

Davalos makes sure the kids stay in the same school, no matter where they're living, and helps their parents find a more permanent home.

And every once in a while one of her families gets lucky. Josh Dillon, his sister Alyssa, and his autistic brother Martin lived next door to the Rotundo family in the same motel with their mom Aimee for over two years.

Last December a donor heard about the Dillion family through Davalos' program and came forward with a check for $1,080, enough to cover a deposit for a home and utilities. And that has turned around a downward slide for the family.

"I've seen a world of difference in my kids," said Aimee Dillon. "Maybe not anything substantial that would matter to anyone else but I've seen a change in all of them."

Aimee hopes to get back to work now that her family is stable.

"I feel that they feel they are protected now," Aimee said. "They don't have a lot to worry about."

Davalos also helped the Wega Family. After their home was foreclosed on and bulldozed last year, they lived with another family for 6 months.

"You literally lost everything?" Cobiella asked.

"Everything was wiped out," Richard Wega said. "What we couldn't get out in the 24 hours got left behind."

The Wega Family's three daughters suffered from depression and their grades dropped while they were homeless. The family is slowing turning things around.

"This is much better than what you had a month ago, right?" Cobiella asked.

"Big time," said daughter Kacy Jo. "I had to sleep on a couch. Actually I had to sleep on a loveseat."

Now in an apartment, the family is saving for another home. The girls' grades are improving and they are starting to feel safe again.

"I know we'll have a place to come back to," said Kacy Jo. "If we go somewhere we have a place to go home."

While both of Michael's parents work now, they still can't save enough to get out of the Budget Inn.

"I really wish I had my own room so that I could have friends over," Michael said. "You know being in the neighborhood - go out and play football and go out and have some fun."

"Have a normal kids' life?" Cobiella asked.

"Yeah," Michael said. "I wish I had a normal kid's life. But I don't."

And it's getting harder for him to imagine a day when he will.
  • Kelly Cobiella

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