Faces of Poverty
4 months ago
Two women living below the poverty line share their stories
West Oakland, California
By Sara LaFleur
Things would have been fine for Ramona if she hadn’t become pregnant at 15, and had to drop out of school in the eleventh grade.
Today Ramona is 34 and has six children, ranging in age from 2 to 14, by three different fathers. She cares for her three youngest children; the others live with their fathers.
Before she became pregnant with 3-year-old Quincy'ana, Ramona worked as a caregiver for the elderly. The house she was renting was foreclosed on in 2008, and she lost her Section 8 benefits in 2009. Ramona fought the foreclosure for three years, managed to get the case to court, but didn't make it to the court date because her foot was fractured after the property gate fell on her.
In October 2011, Ramona was forced out into the streets with her three kids. From October through January 2012, she stayed at the West Wind Lodge Motel, paying about $1200 a month to keep a roof over her kids' heads.
In January 2012, when she ran out of money, she actually called Oakland Mayor Jean Quan's office to get help. The administration tried to connect Ramona with a shelter, but the plan didn't succeed and Ramona ended up traveling to San Rafael to stay with her sister. After a couple weeks, Ramona felt like she was no longer welcome and returned to the Bay. By the beginning of April 2012, Ramona found herself on the streets. The shelters were full.
Ramona won’t say how she survived on the streets. She says not knowing where her family was going to sleep was her biggest fear every day. She got meals, diapers and was able to bathe and do her laundry at St. Vincent De Paul, a church in Oakland that Ramona had attended since she was a child.
Ramona was able to find housing, get her Section 8 back, and get off the streets thanks to her Uncle John. In September 2012, he found her a house in West Oakland, and worked out a deal with the landlord.
Still, life remains struggle. Ramona is living on the $300 a month she receives in public assistance. Soon, her youngest children will be old enough for school, and Ramona dreams of going to Laney College, to get a business license to open her own business.