SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — Being a kid at school is hard enough without having to worry about where you and your family will sleep that night. So imagine juggling homework and peer pressure while living in a shelter, on the street, or in someone's spare room—but that's the reality many children across the state.
Four percent of California's schoolchildren are homeless. That is 270,000 children with 20,000 of them right here in the Bay Area.
A Sheltered Life: Bay Area's Homeless Schoolchildren Learn To Cope With Harsh Realities
One of them is a 10-year-old girl who didn't want to use her real name but chose to go by Rachel. She's in the 5th grade at a San Francisco public school. Her mom, who worked as as a preschool teacher, was laid off and couldn't pay rent. Now they are staying at First Friendship shelter, in the Haight.
"Wow. I can't believe this is happening to me—like this is really happening to me and I have to work with this and I feel pretty sad when my mom doesn't have any money for me or something to eat or something to drink," Rachel said.
She has to wake up early to take a shower at a different facility before she goes to school. Her mom can't make her lunch anymore.
"I had to do my homework in the shelter. There was a lot of kids playing and it was really distracting and I didn't get to finish my homework," Rachel said.
Her mom, Karen, said Rachel has special needs—she is easily distracted becomes overwhelmed—but that she loves to sit and draw, and wants to be a singer.
"She's not like the average kid where she's breaking down crying. She lifts me into being a better mom so instead of me giving up. She's like, 'It's O.K. Mom, today is a new day,'" Karen said.
"My mom is always trying to give up, but I'm always trying to say; Mom, chill out, we got this, O.K?" Rachel said.
Rachel said she is still doing well at school but said that she worries more about the other kids in the shelter.
"Why are they all learning about this; they're on the street. Kids don't need to learn about that right now; they're just kids right now. They want a house and have food to eat and toys to play with," she said.
She turns 11 just before Christmas, and hopes for some presents, but has something not quite so tangible at the top of her list.
"I want all the homeless kids to have a perfect home they need this and Christmas is coming they get their lovely gift," she said.
Like many homeless families, Karen and Rachel keep their status a secret from her classmates and teachers; even though that means not taking advantage of support that the school district offers homeless students:
"I never told the school—anyone. It's just a big secret. Just me and mom knows and we'll keep that secret. And after that secret, once I get a house and stuff, I can let the secret go." Rachel said.
In Part 3 on Wednesday, the reasons for the rise in student homelessness will be explored.
HOW TO HELP:
To donate directly to help Karen and Rachel: https://handup.us/members/karen
Clara House – Compass Family Services
Hamilton Family Center
San Francisco Unified School District –Homeless Children fund for field trips, prom dresses, other expenses.
Contact Jan Walker 415-241-3030 x13338
California Homeless Youth Project
KCBS Cover Story Series: Our Homeless Schoolkids
A five-parts series, running through Friday, December 19. Airing on KCBS 740/106.9 at 6:30am, 8:30am, 12:30pm, 4:30pm and 9:30pm.
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