Loaves & Fishes’ school for homeless children has asked Sacramento County to increase the number of emergency shelter beds for families, citing a spike in the number of children sleeping on Sacramento streets.
Mustard Seed School Director Casey Knittel said of the 40 families whose children enrolled in the school in September, 19 were camping in a car or tent. With days getting cooler, rainy weather expected this weekend, Knittel said those children need to be inside at night.
Burke said Loaves & Fishes met with county staff about two weeks ago but has yet to see a plan to increase the number of emergency beds in the county. Sacramento County currently provides 720 emergency shelter beds and $2.5 million for rapid re-housing programs, a county spokeswoman said in an email. She did not address the school’s request.
“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of kids who are making their way here,” Knittel said. “Rarely did we see... families that actually had to be in their cars or actually outside with or without a tent.”
Loaves & Fishes does not receive government money, so it is depending on the county to determine how and where the beds will be provided, Burke said.
Kendra Potter said she never really knows where she, her husband and four children will sleep until night falls. Sometimes it’s a friend’s couch and sometimes it’s a car, she said.
Potter, 29, and her husband lived in a apartment for eight years until about six months ago when they were told to leave, she said. She was pregnant with her now 5-month-old daughter. The couple’s other daughters are 8, 6 and 3 years old.
Potter said area programs and shelters are full and have waiting lists.
“My biggest fear is losing my kids,” said Potter, who said she was raised in foster care. “I’m doing everything right because I have kids. I have to keep it together because if I fall apart, they fall apart.”
The average enrollment at Mustard Seed has traditionally been between 15 and 30 kids per day. In September, enrollment peaked at 66 children, Knittel said. Mustard Seed is a private school designed to give children in pre-K through eighth grade a safe, temporary learning environment while their parents work on residency, vaccines and other public school requirements.
Some Mustard Seed students are staying with relatives or friends. Others live in motel rooms or sleep in cars or tents, Knittel said. Of the 14 families who are actively searching for shelter beds, two have been successful, Knittel said. One mother told Knittel she was put on a shelter waiting list in July and called every day until she got a spot this month for herself and her two children.
Shannon Stevens, who runs the Maryhouse daytime sanctuary for homeless women and children, said 88 of the 130 people who visited the organization since Oct. 1 sleep outside.
“Knowing that they’re going to sleep outside – it’s the most frustrating thing, the most heartbreaking thing,” Stevens said.
Loaves & Fishes Director of Advocacy Joan Burke said the organization cannot account for the increased number of families without safe housing, but she thinks rent increases in a tight market play a role.
“Families who are living on the edge and barely scraping by, if they lose their housing, it’s almost impossible for them to get back in,” Burke said.
Rent for low-income Sacramentans increased by 12 percent this September over September 2015, according to a survey by Yardi Matrix, a commercial apartment industry surveyor. The survey found that about 96 percent of all apartments were rented in August, the report said.
Knittel said Mustard Seed School sees a fraction of the children who are homeless. Most homeless children are enrolled in public schools throughout the county. An accurate count is difficult as families often hide homelessness because of shame or fear their children will be taken away, Burke said.
“Last year, in the course of the school year in Sacramento County, 13,000 children experienced homelessness,” Burke said. “This is not a small problem.”