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Helplessly Homeless

Spreading the word to help an Alameda 10th grader.

Editor's note: this is a "bonus" column from Alice Lewis this week. Her regular "Middle Ground" column will appear on Wednesday, Aug. 15.

On Thursday, Aug. 9, I received a forwarded email from a Bay Street neighbor. Here’s your opportunity to grab the torch and run with it. (Please note that I have made changes to protect the family’s identity):

"Fwd: Homeless Alameda family need short term help - apologies for the wide and loose distribution, just want to spread the word:

"To: Undisclosed-recipients: The below message is in regard to one of Teacher’s top students at Alameda School. Teacher posted the below message on Facebook; I’m just sharing wide in case of any good local contacts for aid you might be able to think of:

"I am very concerned about a homeless family I know. Single mom (via domestic abuse) and grandmother with (#) kids. Wonderful people and the kids are excellent students. Just a burdensome series of events brought them down and it is hard to find resources for a family their size. Kids are too old for local battered women and children shelter.

"They have been knocking about between campgrounds and hotels depending upon how much money they can bring in. Camping allows them to save toward an apartment deposit, but the campground is booked this weekend so they have to move. They have been cooking on charcoal and sleeping without air mattresses. School starts soon and the kids need light to do homework. This is a spiel, but gosh they are nice good studious folks whom I like. Any ideas, anyone?"

I don’t have a spare house, nor can I afford to pay their rent. But I knew I could put the word out, so I contacted the teacher. She said, “Jane is one of my best students even though she is homeless. We keep telling her to hang on because if she keeps it up, she can write her ticket for college. She is such an awesome kid that I plan to employ her as my date night babysitter since my standby just went off to college.”

Jane and I exchanged texts to arrange a meeting. She chose a grassy place so her younger siblings could play while I interviewed her and her mother. Her grandmother sat nearby in a borrowed car filled to the brim with their belongings.

Over the course of the next two hours, I heard their story.

After staying in shelters in other cities, they moved into an Alameda hotel for a year until they could no longer afford it. They spent the last two weeks camping, but the campground was reserved for the weekend so they checked out before coming to meet me. They weren’t sure where they would go for the night.

Jane grew teary as she told me that being homeless was affecting her grades and “kind of sucks.” Her mom said that it’s difficult connecting and disconnecting a PC when you’re moving from place to place.

In spite of it, Jane took three college classes over the summer and managed to get straight A's. She wants to be a pediatrician because she suffered from asthma as a child and admired her doctors. She runs track, volunteers feeding the homeless, and founded a humanitarian program for her school. (A little too ironic, I think.)

It’s understandable that the 10th grader is tired of it. Group activities are particularly difficult, because classmates ask to come over or say, “Where’s your house?” It’s hard for her to say they can’t come over. Her mother said that one of her younger children asked to be dropped off a block away from a friend’s house. She thinks he is ashamed. If someone asks where he is living, he changes the subject.

Jane started to cry again as she said, “I don’t think it’s coming around. How am I going to function with all this hanging over my head?” When her principal and teachers ask if there has been any progress, she says no.

Her teacher said, “When I asked the mom what they need, she tiredly said, ‘A home.’”

So here’s the pitch. The thing they need most is a home. If you can’t help with that, Jane needs a laptop and a graphing calculator. She said boys' shoes sizes 6, 7 ½ and 8 ½ would be good, and I think maybe the next size larger, too, for room to grow. If they are forced to continue camping, then maybe a battery or car-pump inflatable air mattress, a camping stove and propane.

Jane’s mom said she likes Alameda for its safety and diversity, and doesn’t want to uproot her children again. When I suggested they contact Alameda Point Collaborative and Alameda Family Services, she said they’re on the waiting list for the Collaborative but it’s taking too long. She took the printout for AFS and agreed to call.

So if you can help, grab the torch from me by commenting below. Or if you prefer, email and I will forward it to Jane’s teacher. Thank you in advance for being the kind of people that makes Alameda my kind of town.

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Dick Rudloff August 14, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Alice. Very moving and informative. What's best way to help? Coffee shop buddie
Alice Lewis August 14, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Her teacher sent me this, Rudy: "If people offer help, then cards for Walgreens, Kohls, Trader Joes, Gasoline, might be most practical and helpful. I also have something you might add to emphasize the importance of their need for a home (versus handouts). The house next to me has sat empty for six months. The tenant moved out, and the landlord has made no move to rent or sell. We think he has many properties and perhaps hasn't the time to fix it up. I tried to call him, but the number had no message service. Maybe someone else knows of an empty place in need of occupants." I also received an email from Christopher at Givegoods.org, offering to set up an account for the family. Will keep you posted...
Theresa August 14, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Please update on where we can drop of gift cards, donations. We don't have an empty space, but can give gift cards or school supplies. Thanks! Theresa and Clark
HappyAlamedan August 14, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Alice, I'm wondering about the type of housing or what possibilities are. Does the mom have a job? Is she able to pay minimal rent? If not, then most housing solutions will be very short term and it sounds like they need some stability ... so, it might be helpful too, if she doesn't have a job, to find out what her experience is and what kind of job she'd be looking for and have folks keep their eyes out for work for her. If she does have a job, that's great news if we can find them a reasonable rental situation! Just asking for more info so we all have a better idea of how we can help. Thanks.
Alice Lewis August 14, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Mom is working here and there as things come up. She is intelligent and personable. I am hesitant to post too much detail. This is new territory for me and don't want to overstep so I am proceeding with caution.
Judy Judy August 14, 2012 at 05:59 PM
With fingers crossed, I'm sharing this as we speak.
John Piziali August 14, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Has the family contacted AUSD, for help. I know Vicky Smith does work with homeless families in the district. Basically to help the children in school.
Doug Biggs August 14, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Alice, 211 is a service funded by United Way and local communities (including Alameda) and operated by Eden I&R that provides referrals for housing, shelter and access to funds. As with every other safety net service nowadays demand far outweighs supply and if someone was to just call once, they would probably be disappointed, but some of the resources 211 has have daily or weekly quotas, so if the person called back multiple times, they may luck out and get on a list. Specific resources that this family should ask for: Referrals to family shelters Qualification Screening for Seasons of Sharing funds - this will help out with one time payment of expenses such as a security deposit, utilities etc. Qualification Screening for HPRP - HPRP is the "rapid rehousing" program that provides short to medium term subsidies for someone who is on the verge or recently became homeless, but with some help could become stabilized again (i.e. has some source of income) Unfortunately the HPRP program is ending in September and they may already have stopped enrolling new participants, but it never hurts to ask.
Alice Lewis August 14, 2012 at 09:19 PM
They are working with Vickie. Thanks John! This day and these comments, along with emails sent directly to me demonstrate that Alameda has a great and kind community. I saw it years and years ago through a family who needed support in the face of extreme illness, and I see it remains true today.
EJC August 17, 2012 at 02:32 AM
I think the waiting list for Shinsei Gardens and Breakers at Bayport might be open. Also, the grandmother may be able to get housing through the Alameda Housing Authority. I think there are vacancies at Independence Plaza right now. AHA also has large family units that it has a harder time filling and this family might qualify. I agree with Doug that calling 211 frequently is a good plan too.
Alice Lewis August 17, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Still working on the best way to get donations to the family. Until then, I will deliver gift cards etc. through our mutual friend. They can be mailed to Hidden Connections at 909 Marina Village Pkwy #300; Alameda, CA 94501. I don't think the store accepts "over the counter" deliveries. Thanks Theresa and Clark. I know they will appreciate your generosity.
Alice Lewis August 17, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Thanks Doug! I copied and forwarded your suggestions.
Alice Lewis August 17, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Thanks also, EJC! Sent along...
EJC August 17, 2012 at 06:56 PM
On Monday, August 20, 2012, at 8 am, the Berkeley Housing Authority will open the ONLINE APPLICATION FOR The PROJECT-BASED SECTION 8 WAITLIST IN THE FOLLOWING FIVE PROJECT-BASED CATEGORIES ONLY: - SENIORS 62 YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER - HOUSING OPPORTUNITIES FOR PEOPLE WITH HIV OR AIDS (HOPWA) - YOUNG ADULTS (AGES 18 – 24) WHO ARE EMANCIPATED FROM FOSTER CARE - FAMILIES THAT QUALIFY FOR A 3 BEDROOM UNIT Single Head of Household plus a minimum of 3 additional household members depending on relationship Head of Household and Spouse/Domestic Partner plus a minimum of 3 additional household members depending on relationship. - FAMILIES THAT QUALIFY FOR A 4 BEDROOM UNIT Single Head of Household plus a minimum of 4 additional household members depending on relationship Head of Household and Spouse/Domestic Partner plus a minimum of 4 additional household members depending on relationship. The application link will be posted on BHA’s website as of Monday, August 20th, at 8:00 am: www.cityofberkeley.info/bha . Note: those attempting to apply before 8 am on Monday 8/20 will not be able to do so. Thank you! Rachel Gonzales-Levine, Management Analyst Berkeley Housing Authority | 1901 Fairview | Berkeley, CA 94703 Tel (510) 981-5485 | Fax (510) 981-5480 rgonzales-levine@ci.berkeley.ca.us www.cityofberkeley.info/bha
jessica nelson October 31, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Whatever happen to this family?
Alice Lewis October 31, 2012 at 10:39 PM
I received an email saying that they had found a home. In addition, they received several gift cards from very generous readers and friends of readers. (I am so very grateful.) Thanks for following up, Jessica.

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