Growing Up Homeless

Eleven-year-old Justin Bisher shared with The Early Show what living life as a homeless child is like.
What would it be like growing up homeless?

Many children like 11-year-old Justin Bisher now know.

His mother -- a single parent -- lost her job as a waitress, and then their duplex apartment in Sacramento, Calif. That's when Bisher began living out of a suitcase.

In a special series called "CBS Reports: Children of the Recession," The Early Show and the showed what life is like for some of what the National Center on Family Homelessness estimates are 1.5 million homeless kids in the United States.

On The Early Show Friday, Bisher told what one typical day was like.

It began early, like almost any other child's, but he didn't wake in his own room. Bisher, his sister and mother often slept in a church classroom.

Then, they shuttled across town for showers at a drop-in center. Bisher then headed to school, but one specially designed for homeless children, the Mustard Seed School.

Early Show co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez and producer Lisa Weiss wrote about this school -- one of only six in the nation reaching out to homeless students -- in a USA Today article, "School Caters to Homeless Children".

The school is a haven for homeless kids, according to Madelyn Hall, Bisher's teacher.

"There are so many things homeless children take on emotionally," she said. "Even just not having a lunch. You know, wearing clothes that are dirty. Those things here don't really matter."

Fifteen to 35 students attend Mustard Seed School, and have an average stay of three-to-four weeks, Rodriguez reported.

Bisher says he has excelled in all of his classes, and has made a new friend, a cat named Lazarus who was once homeless himself.

After school, Bisher and his sister played on the church's playground and ate a home-cooked dinner, provided by Family Promise of Sacramento.

Bisher's mother, Lisa, said it's hard not to be able to provide these things for her children.

"A lot of times, I feel like a failure," she said. "I feel like they deserve better. I wish for them to have, you know, the life that I know I could have had."

Lisa said she is looking for a job.

"I really think, even though jobs are scarce, where there's a will, there's a way," she said. "And it may take longer, but if you keep trying -- eventually something will happen."

And something did happen. After a long application process, Bisher's family is getting their own apartment in a highly selective transitional housing and job training program at the Sacramento's Mather Community Campus.

Bisher and his sister will get their own bedroom.

"It feels really great to know that people care about you like that and that people really want to help you," Bisher said.

Looking back, his mother added, "Being homeless, for me and my kids -- it really is a hard way to live."

For more information, contact the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.