Getting kids to school and ensuring their homework is done is not always easy.
Especially for a homeless family.
“The things you take for granted, we think about twice as much,” said Isabella, a 45-year-old homeless mother of two teenagers living in Nevada County.
“We don’t have an everyday routine,” she said. “Every day is about getting to the next day, and whatever comes up, we have to deal with.”
Isabella has a 15-year-old son, a 13-year-old daughter and a long-term boyfriend, Tony (not their real names).
As a family, they are working to get back on their feet within Nevada County’s service network that includes Hospitality House. (The Union agreed to withhold names as “Isabella” said the last time she appeared in a newspaper, an abusive ex-husband was able to track her down. Fleeing that man is what put Isabella on the streets the first time, which she said she did again after the article, instigating her second transiency. She has been homeless, on and off, for 15 years, she said.)
“I get jobs for awhile, but then something happens,” Isabella said. “I’ll be going really good, but then I get homeless again.”
She attributes her most recent fall into homelessness to a cancer diagnosis.
“I’m good now,” Isabella said. “They did laser surgery.”
When Isabella’s family became homeless in Nevada County six months ago, they resorted to living out of a truck with all their possessions. They’d drive to Hospitality House’s Welcome Center on South Church Street and ride the nonprofit’s buses to and from area churches, which provide rotating shelter and food each night.
“If you are single and in the groove of it, it’s a lot easier than with a family,” said Tony, 63, who has worked at Nevada County restaurants and bars for decades.
“You get good meals and a safe place to sleep. It was fine for a while, but then it wears on you,” Tony said. “Every night you are somewhere different. It’s exhausting.”
Tony recalls being vigilant of the children, having trouble falling asleep and then waking up at 6 a.m. to get back to Hospitality House by 8 a.m. in order to get the kids to school on time. That kind of schedule, Isabella said, creates a challenge to study and doesn’t leave a student fully rested.
“There isn’t a quiet place for them to do their homework,” Isabella said. “No space to be quiet.”
Today, Isabella and her family stay in transitional housing at the Salvation Army’s Booth Family Center, an old motel that has been converted into temporary housing.
“It kind of tight,” Tony said. “It’s kind of nerve-wracking.”
A stay at Booth is limited to six months, which the family is halfway through, and requires guests to look for employment. Part of the move away from living in the truck also involved parting ways with the family pets — a dog and a cat, taken in by animal nonprofit organizations.
“We didn’t want to get rid of our pets because they are like our other kids,” Isabella said, conceding the animals are being well cared for.
Isabella’s children weren’t initially going to school every day, and education officials became concerned, she said.
“I had to fight to get them to cater to our needs,” she said. “Just because (my daughter) is homeless doesn’t make her inadequate or doesn’t deserve to go to school.”
Her son is enrolled in an independent study program, aiming for his high school equivalency, while her daughter goes to school several times a week and works with a good Grass Valley teacher, the mother said.
“She looks forward to going to school,” Isabella said, proud of the girl’s good grades. “She will go to college.”
Nevada County schools have identified 160 students as homeless — those who do not live in a permanent living situation, whether that be on the streets, staying with family members temporarily or moving from place to place “couch surfing.”
“If she is homeless, then she has no place to run if she has a bad day,” Isabella said of her daughter.
The number of local homeless students has doubled since last year, according to Stan Miller, associate superintendent for educational services — a figure that could reflect an increase in the demographic or could simply be a more accurate representation of what was always there, he said.
“They get referred by teachers or the school nurse, and one of the Nevada Union Connect parents monitors it to make sure they get what they need,” said Beth Whittlesey, the homeless student liaison at Nevada Union High School, which offers a monitored area where students can find donated clothes.
Students who are declared homeless are also eligible for free breakfast and lunch without the requirement of paperwork and processing, Whittlesey said.
“That’s one thing that even in this sort of financial crunch, which I think is a huge burden off those families and a huge burden for those kids, is trying to figure out how to eat 10 days a week,” Whittlesey said.
Whittlesey used to buy students necessities like shampoo, razors, soap and towels. However, funding for such school services has decreased in recent years, despite stable numbers of students, she said.
“We use all of that money, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all the needs are met, and one thing that’s really hard and the one need you can’t meet is finding a home,” Whittlesey said.
Unlike pets, Isabella said she gave her children a choice: If they felt a foster home or anywhere else would be better for them, she would allow them go.
“They would rather be with their family than somewhere else,” Isabella said. “We are a family. We have to stick it out as a family. They know it is a rough patch, and we’ll get through it together.”
The Union’s Jennifer Terman contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
“We are a family. We have to stick it out as a family.”