EAST PALO ALTO (CBS SF) – Amid the staggering affluence of the Silicon Valley sits the Ravenswood City School District where a third of its students are homeless.
A few miles up the road is the palatial headquarters of Facebook and other tech giants are nestled within 20 miles. But when school lets out at Castano Elementary in East Palo Alto more than half of the kids don’t have a place to go.
They are homeless, living in cars and rundown RVs tucked away on industrial, forgotten blocks.
Among them is 15-year-old Lannette Chavez.
For the last year, the teen has been sharing a bed with her two younger sisters on top of the RV’s cab.
They are the faces of a staggering statistic – of the 3,071 students in the Ravenswood City School District – one third are homeless.
“Showering is difficult because you have to shower at a certain time you can’t just shower whenever you want to,” she told KPIX 5. “It’s hard because I have to like go to school and sometimes I won’t get there in time to take a shower.”
The family showers at the YMCA. They try not to use the toilet too much since the tank fills up fast. Running water is limited. There is virtually no free space, no heat, and no working fridge.
For the first few months, they did homework by flashlight. Their belongings are stuffed in bags and drawers.
They rarely run the generator for fear of upsetting the neighbors – who mostly look the other way.
“When you think about homeless, you think about somebody on the street,” said Lannette’s mom Adriana.
Adriana and her husband Omar never imagined their family would be homeless. They were evicted from their $1,200 a month studio in East Palo Alto when Omar hurt his back.
He had worked multiple jobs in the restaurant industry, but the family suddenly found themselves living in their car before they scrapped together a thousand dollars to buy a battered RV from a junkyard.
The Chavez family had fallen victim to the expensive Bay Area housing market. Five years ago, the average cost of a home in East Palo Alto was around $280,000. Today, according to DeLeon Realty, it sits at around $750,000.
Adriana now works at a day care making about $10 an hour. It’s enough to keep a roof over their heads, but not enough to get out.
“I think there’s no words I can describe,” Adriana answers when asked how it feels to be homeless.
She says it became emotionally overwhelming when she signed her daughter up for school.
“I have to register my daughter for high school and I don’t have an address to provide, then that’s homeless,” she told KPIX 5.
The Chavez family is part of a growing number of the newly homeless. The working poor.
“It’s really sad,” said Gloria Hernandez-Goff, the superintendent of the Ravenswood City School District
“You cross the 101, come into East Palo Alto and Eastern Menlo Park and you see a different world, in the midst of all this affluence.”
Hernandez-Goff’s district sits in the midst of Silicon Valley’s booming tech economy and yet 63 percent of Castano Elementary’s 500-plus kids are homeless – the highest number of all her schools.
Currently, she is focused on some immediate relief for her students. Hernandez-Goff wants to open school parking lots at night so families have a safe place to park.
She also plans to install donated washing machines on campuses.
“Until we solve some of the very basic survival needs for our students, it’s unreasonable to expect them to – to have excellent scores,” Hernandez-Goff said. “They don’t get adequate sleep, many of them don’t get adequate meals.”
Amid it all the Chavez kids are grateful for what they have and Lannette seems much wiser than other 15-year-olds.
“I’ve been through a lot and I’ve seen like what other people have been through,” she said. “It’s just like you want to help others because…I feel like each one of us should all be kind to each other.”
Asked if she had a message for others, Adriana answered:
“We are humans like them and that we have feelings,” she said. “I just want them to know that if we are living here it’s because we didn’t have a choice.”