Sunday, Aug. 11th 2019

Family found a path to success from homelessness

By Larry Carr and Edward Condon

Sacramento Bee – Sunday, August 11, 2019

We who have homes and jobs and health insurance can become jaded to why people experience homelessness. Typical generalizations are: They don’t work hard enough, they drink, they had too many kids, they run afoul of the law. What is also likely true is that an individual or a family can become homeless because of bad luck, ill health or, as thousands of Northern Californians recently experienced, wildfire.

But imagine if you didn’t have a place to sleep at night but you still had a job. Or imagine you are living in someone’s garage or “couch-surfing” with family or friends, and then add children to the scenario. When you add in the kids – especially toddlers –not having a stable place to live takes homelessness to a deeper dimension of pain.

People can experience homelessness in many ways, and bringing services to them needs to be much more than a roof, a bed and a good meal.

As our city, our county and our country seriously confront homelessness, we should remember that the most vulnerable of our population are children without homes, and the damage caused to them is long-term. Children are impacted in their educational and emotional development, as well as in their physical development if they aren’t getting nutritious meals and health care.

We’d like to relate, through the eyes of one mom, a family’s experience and how they succeeded with help from supportive programs.

After a run of trouble, a Sacramento family of four, including two little boys, found itself homeless. The parents took numerous bus and light rail rides searching for help.

“We ended up at Loaves & Fishes,” said the mom, Lucia, “and we were sent to Maryhouse, a center for woman and kids in need of a safe place during the day.”

That wise choice led to a cascade of other good things happening. From Maryhouse, they learned about a shelter called Family Promise, which is on the grounds of Loaves & Fishes.

“We were accepted into the shelter, and that was the moment we knew our life was going to change for the better,” Lucia said.

While there, the parents got their driver’s licenses, saved money and paid off debt. They enrolled their four-year-old son at the Mustard Seed School, a school for families who are currently experiencing homelessness. But having an 18-month-old son to care for still made it difficult for both parents to go to work, so they looked for daycare options. And that’s when they found the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency’s Head Start program.

“The Head Start staff was so welcoming and friendly,” Lucia added, “and that made us very comfortable with the program. Getting my son into Early Head Start was another one of those wise decisions we made.”

With the toddler in preschool, the mom was able to go back to school, get her GED and then attend a nine-week program called Women’s Empowerment. After finishing the classes, she found a job.

“To be able to work and know I don’t have to worry about child care is truly a blessing,” she said.

And then came along another moment of serendipity, created by opportunity and being in the right place.

“While my son was attending Head Start, the program had a 30th anniversary celebration, and we were asked to speak about how the SETA Head Start helped us while we were homeless. After giving our talk, a gentleman walked up and offered my husband a position in Information Technology.”

Once again, their life changed again for the better.

“If it wasn’t for Head Start giving the family a slot for the toddler to attend, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Lucia said. That little boy who was 18-months-old is now in fourth grade.

And here’s the rest of the story. The father has been working at SETA for six years, and mom is the outreach coordinator at the Mustard Seed School.

“To give back and let other families know that there is a way out of homelessness is the best job ever,” Lucia said.

What her family’s experience demonstrates is the value of a stable home environment, and the advantage this provides in helping people to feed themselves and their kids, to make it to work on time and to see their children safely off to school.

Our community is blessed to have a generous assortment of programs like Head Start, Loaves & Fishes, Maryhouse, Sacramento Steps Forward, SETA, Women’s Empowerment and others. There is help across a spectrum of services for individuals and families who want to do better for themselves. Services provided by organizations such as SETA are carefully planned to reflect local conditions and community needs and, in the case of Head Start, to serve children most at-risk.

The critical role these organizations play in making these American lives healthy again needs emphasis. Experts say that, when working with families experiencing homelessness, it is important to remember that children’s health and housing security are closely intertwined. Children experiencing homelessness are more likely to experience chronic diseases, behavioral health concerns, developmental delays, hunger and malnutrition than those who have homes.

If our nation is the land of second chances where we have the freedom to change our lives and to start again, then we should support and promote all the levers that assist families like Lucia’s, who then – in her words – can give back and return the favor.

Larry Carr is District 8 Councilmember, City of Sacramento and Board Chair, Sacramento Employment and Training Agency. Edward Condon is Executive Director of the Sacramento-based Region 9 Head Start Association.

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The Vision

All children, regardless of their circumstance at birth, deserve a full and prosperous life.

The Mission

  • Support high-impact Head Start programs for children and adults by creating opportunities for collaboration, networking and information sharing.
  • Unite with state and national Head Start organizations to ensure regulatory and budget outcomes that support our work.
  • Champion the message that every child and family who succeeds makes their community a better place.
  • Provide resources to assist our members in compliance and professional development.

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