You read that correctly. In Orange County, California, with a 3.2 million population, there are 32,510 homeless children.
About a dozen AAUW members from our Westminster-Fountain Valley-Huntington Beach branch were present last night at the Huntington Beach Central Library Theater to hear Regina Calcaterra recount what it felt like to be a homeless child. Our evening book discussion group had discussed Etched in Sand, and its sequel, Girl Unbroken, in February.
|Regina Calcaterra, photo by SUNY New Paltz|
Etched in Sand had been selected as the community read for Huntington Beach Reads One Book 2018. It had been distributed to eight area high schools where it has been used for reading assignments, book reports, art projects and classroom discussion. It has also been read by Huntington Beach Library Community Read participants.
The Huntington Beach Reads One Book project's mission is to encourage youth and the community to read, think, discuss and act. Its annual selections provide "a contemporary message of promoting diversity and eliminating prejudice, be it prejudice against race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, weight, age, or class." The committee chooses books with fewer than 300 pages to fulfill its first purpose...promoting literacy. The selections are appropriate for ages 15 and up, so adolescents and adults can exchange ideas.
This was the third consecutive year I've attended the speaker event. I've previously heard Conor Grenan talk about his "orphan" project in Nepal, recounted in Little Princes, and Jamie Ford discuss his novel, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, about Japanese families sent to internment camps during WWII.
Calcaterra's mother had been herself an abused child with mental illness who, beginning in adolescence, self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. She produced five children with five different men, and lived in the Hamptons, a string of communities in eastern Long Island's South Fork, often thought of as an affluent area. But, just as in Orange County, Long Island features pockets of poverty, as well as neighborhoods of great wealth.
Her mom got evicted from place after place, and often the family was homeless, living out of a car or on the street. Calcaterra said by the time she was five, she already knew she and her siblings were different. They were scrawny, dirty, and disheveled, and other adults would not allow their children to play with them when they ventured to playgrounds or libraries. The only place they managed to fit in was at the beach, where they could strip off their clothing and bathe in the sea.
Calcaterra provided some sad statistics about the percentage of adolescents who shared her plight who are able to escape the cycle of poverty by getting an education.. She'd been told in the '80s by her child welfare worker that she had no future, because foster kids didn't go to college. She disclosed that even today less than three percent of homeless and foster kids have the social skills to navigate through the formal learning structure.
She detailed why access to public schools and public libraries is so vital for these children. Though she and her siblings learned to steal food from supermarkets and farms in order to eat, these facilities provided basic elements such as a controlled temperature, bathrooms with running water and working toilets, and electricity. Libraries also provided reading materials, and schools provided lunches, often the only meal that she and her siblings could depend on.
Calcaterra credits having access to books about Amelia Earhart, a woman of tenacity and persistence, as well as Landmark Series books about Pocohantas, Betsy Ross and Dolley Madison, as providing inspiration for her. She also thanks the teachers who encouraged her for planting seeds in her mind that she could have a different future. Indeed, when she finally began college, she took an early morning political science course, international politicos, where she learned of how children in many developing countries either starve to death, are abandoned on the streets, or are sold into the sex trade. She began to realize that as horrific her childhood was, with the beatings and neglect, she actually had been lucky in at least living in an area where there were a few resources that she and her siblings could access, meager as they might be.
Calceterra wrote her books to draw awareness to how youth can be encouraged to congratulate themselves on their endurance and to adopt attitudes of optimism, persistence and tenacity. She also wanted to encourage adults to assist such youth in trying to find the resources that could help them become productive adults, by being role models and mentors.
A few days ago in the Orange County Register I read about a homeless family of four, including a young boy and girl, who had been sleeping inside a van at a Garden Grove shopping center’s parking lot. They had been discovered inside, possibly victims of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to authorities.
On the front page of today's Los Angeles Times, I read this: Orange County's homeless plan is now in serious jeopardy after those three communities vowed to do whatever it takes to keep the shelters out. Leaders in Irvine and Laguna Niguel voted to sue the county to block the shelter plan, and local officials want to drop the Huntington Beach location.
Yes, everybody agrees to want to help the homeless. Just not in my backyard, though.
What We Can Do To Help Right Here in Orange County
One woman works tirelessly to do what she can. Robyne Wood, a Huntington Beach housewife and mother of two, works with nearly three dozen adolescents, badly in need of adult role models and mentors.
Here's more about Robyne's Nest:
The mission of Robyne’s Nest is to ensure identified at-risk & homeless students in the Huntington Beach community get the academic, financial, and life skills to complete high school and look to college, trade school or military options.
Robyne’s Nest was created by Robyne Wood, an HB wife and mother of two children, to help provide funds and resources for HB school administrators to take care of these students and create a path to successful completion of high school. This is a proactive approach to keep our youth away from drugs, crime, homelessness, human trafficking and early parenthood. We want to re-write their story for a better future.
There is increased awareness of students struggling when it comes to basic support from their parents for such needs as food, housing, academics and even safety. The answer is not as simple as calling the police or CPS. Many of these students want help and that is why they continue to go to school looking for some security, routine and a place to belong.
We have the opportunity and responsibility, as a community, to take care of these students and not leave them behind!
Please read about Robyne's Nest, and see what you can do to help address the heartbreaking issue of homelessness and what happens to children who age out of the foster care system. Here's the website for Robyne's Nest: https://www.robynesnest.org/
If you live in Orange County, Robyne's most needed items include gift cards for WalMart and Target so her teens can purchase basics such as socks and underwear. She also can use school supplies, bus passes and ge boxes of granola/breakfast bars, tuna/chicken salad kits, fruit cups, beef jerky, pretzel and nut bags, individual peanut butter/crackers, ramen noodle cups/bowls. View Grocery List OR visit our Amazon Student Pantry List for convenient donating!