About one out of four students at Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima (182 out of 739) was reported as being homeless in the 2017-18 school year. And while those numbers have decreased slightly, the campus still has one of the highest populations of students in dire economic needs.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) considers a “homeless” student as one who lives on the street, in a shelter, a car, garages or doubles up with other families in a residence.
So Telfair was an important setting for one of the stops on Tuesday, April 9, of the California Poor People’s Campaign’s statewide Truth and Poverty Bus Tour, which seeks to bring light to poverty, ecological devastation, and racism, among other social ills.
The tour, which began in Chico, will finish with a two-day stop in San Diego on April 12 and 13.
The meeting at Telfair was attended by a couple dozen residents, activists and representatives from local organizations and elected officials.
But the central point of the meeting was the tales of struggles faced by people who have come face to face with the issue of not having a roof over their heads.
Such is the case of Yesenia Campos, who escaped a domestic violence relationship with her child only to spend two weeks in a hotel.
“The last week I didn’t have any groceries,” Campos told the meeting attendees.
To afford accommodations, she began her days at 5:30 a.m. and took four buses to head to Malibu for work and often arrived home past 8 p.m.
“For a whole year I barely saw my son,” she said.
After her situation improved a bit, she decided to attend a technical school for a medical assistant degree, hoping this would take her away from living on the edge.
But even with a degree, working a full-time job and also a part-time shift at a grocery store, “it was still not enough to make ends meet,” she said.
“At times I didn’t have a meal,” Campos continued, and asked the crowd not to judge people who find themselves without a roof over their heads.
“People have stories, people have letdowns,” she said. “We are hard working people. This is not just an economic problem. This is a community problem.”
Gina, who didn’t reveal her last name, said she is also going through a difficult time being currently unemployed and defaulting on her student loans.
“All I get is calls with people telling me ‘you need to pay us’,” Gina said.
She said she’s sought help for her predicament, but “it’s been two months, and I’m still waiting to be helped.”
For Silvia Venegas, her struggles began six years ago.
In 2005 she bought a home in Van Nuys, and while going through a loan modification in 2013 her loan servicing company, Ocwen, foreclosed on her property without her knowledge. It’s called dual tracking, an illegal process that was at the center of the real estate debacle a decade ago.
Venegas’ home was sold at an auction to a hedge fund named Colony Capital, which later sold it to another company, Invitation Homes.
“I have been fighting for six years. I’m still in my house. I refuse to leave my home,” said the member of the grassroots organization Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).
“I want to tell them (the people) that there’s support and help,” Venegas said.
That was also the purpose for the meeting, said Trini Rodriguez, one of the co-founders of the Tia Chucha Centro Cultural and one of the event organizers.
“The purpose is to light a fire in our imagination, and in our organization,” she said.
The Poor People’s Campaign hopes to spread throughout California, which has some of the highest housing and rental costs in the country. It seeks to rally community groups to take political action on the many issues that surround poverty at a time when the economy is supposedly doing well.
“The economy is becoming a natural disaster,” said Luis Rodriguez, another Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural founder. “We’re not going to blame the victims anymore. We’re going to focus on our own liberation and our own answers.”
Answers and solutions that sparked the gamut of creating community gardens and building tiny homes on empty lots and doing more outreach to homeless individuals to let them know of resources and help available to them.