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.