Before the alarm goes off at 7:30 a.m., five people are crammed inside the Rios family trailer.

There are two narrow beds on either side of the 20-foot corridor that starts in the kitchen and ends in the bathroom. Catalina Rios usually shares one of those beds with her 5-year-old son. Her college-age daughter takes the other bed, and her two oldest sons sleep on the bench in the kitchen. Rios’ three boys need to be at school at 8 a.m., so after a hurried breakfast of tacos and juice, they filter slowly out of the front gate – the oldest, Carlos, walks ahead on his own while Rios holds the hands of Ricardo and Dariush. Before moving into their current trailer, Rios and her family lived in a junkyard in Chula Vista for almost two years. They couldn’t have the lights on after dark because they were afraid that if the county found out they were living on land that’s not zoned for residents, they would be forced to leave. It was difficult for Rios to get her children to school on time.

Photo by Gabriel Ellison-Scowcroft
Photo by Gabriel Ellison-Scowcroft
Catalina Rios walks her sons Dariush, 5, and Carlos, 11, to school in San Ysidro.

This web documentary explores the life of a family struggling with homelessness in San Ysidro. It is part of a series on the hidden homeless families of San Diego’s South Bay.

In the 2015-2016 school year, 1,862 students, or about one-third of the total population, were identified as homeless by the San Ysidro School District. Most of the families considered homeless by the district live in similar situations to the Rioses. Many end up in substandard housing arrangements because it’s all they can afford. Most of the time this means that multiple families will share a small apartment. Sometimes entire families will live in a small room, and in extreme cases, families will pack into trailers in junkyards, or even live in shipping containers.

Catalina Rios bought the trailer that her family sleeps in now, but she still has to pay rent for the space it is parked on. Like most of the trailers that surround her lot, Rios’ trailer has not been mobile for a long time. The roof leaks when it rains, and the space is much too small to accommodate so many people. It’s too cramped for all five Rios family members to be inside the trailer at once, unless they’re sleeping. But it is still better than the junkyard they were living in before.

Watch here:

    This article relates to: Border, Homelessness, Housing, Immigration, News, South Bay

    Barry Vague
    Barry Vague

    @John H Borja. Respectfully if you were a 64 year old male living in a 1600 square foot 4 bedroom house in Imperial Beach would you offer to save just one family from this plight by allowing them in to your home, or are you all keyboard?

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    These children are not hidden to the teachers in San Ysidro. Many of these children arrive at school looking about the same as other students. In the classroom, the real affects of their daily lives  become easily apparent. These homeless children come to school in fear. They fear just about everything. At five or 6 years old they don't know why they feel the way they do. And, the children have academic delays that surely make them feel different than the rest of the class. The teacher may identify some things that affect the children academically to the parents, but the parents are having difficulty just "keeping things together". Much less are the concerns of the parents about the sometimes nuanced issues attendant with reading, comprehension, and math. But, much more than all of this are the basic issues of nutrition and sleep.  Some children get to the door of the classroom and collapse. They collapse in their chair because they feel safe and because they haven't slept well the hours before arriving at school. So, homework suffers and communications between home and school suffer. 

    What people in Fairbanks Ranch do not understand is that current public education money is not nearly enough to educate upwards of 30 percent of students in California who happened to be homeless. San Ysidro is just one example. There are children all over the State of California that suffer due to homelessness. Homelessness exacerbates pre-existing issues that undermine academic progress in school age children. And, teachers do what they can with both arms and hands held behind their backs. Pay? That just angers most teachers.  What most teachers want is to be able to relieve the pain they see in the children they try to teach.  The media focuses on teacher pay. Teachers have a life and deserve pay commensurate with their level of education and understanding of the human conditions they face in the classroom: to be validated for promoting well being to their charges.

      Homelessness is a major problem in our society today. And, our society is not dealing with it hardly at all.