Homeless in Oakland: How Our Family Ended Up Here

Cortney, Noah (age 1) and Elijah (age 9) have been homeless for over two years.

(This is a guest post by Will Beal, Cortney Glen and Paula Beal, our beloved friends. Paula has been organizing and advocating to expand access to healthy food, livable housing, and healthcare in Oakland for over 45 years. In other words, Paula Beal is an elder for Planting Justice.)

Planting Justice would be grateful if you donated to the Beal family’s housing/survival fund.

April 2014

We saw mold in the bathroom when we first walked through the apartment on 76th Ave, but the landlord told us he would have it taken care of before we moved in. At that time, the average Oakland housing unit rented for $2,428/month, and we had to house ourselves plus three children on a combined income of less than $30,000/year. We took the apartment.

We moved our 1 year old baby Isaiah, our 2 year old daughter Soriah, and our 8 year son Elijah into this apartment with a moldy bathroom.

And then the stove broke.

And then the oven broke.

Cortney: I tried to get the landlord to fix the appliances, because I had no way to cook food for my kids. But he wouldn’t talk to me. He had a problem with women; he refused to deal with me and insisted to talk to Will, which was hard to coordinate because of Will’s work schedule.

Even after Will was able to speak to the landlord, nothing was done to fix the issues. We cooked in our neighbors’ kitchens for months.

October 2014

As the months passed and the days got shorter, the temperature dropped, and we found that our heater was broken as well.

November 2014

Our broken toilet.

Our toilet broke, and would not flush. Our bathroom flooded with raw sewage if we didn’t scoop out the toilet with a pot and transfer it by hand into the garbage. The conditions were unsanitary and unsafe for our young children. We lived in these conditions for 21 days (Cortney was pregnant at the time) before we were evicted. The landlord retaliated against us for reporting him to the City of Oakland.

January 2015

No one would rent to us with a fresh eviction on our record. Cortney gave birth to baby Noah. The following six months were a blur of squatting in vacant homes, driving all night, and getting kicked out of hard-saved-for motel rooms because our babies cried too loud.

July 2015

We applied for every housing assistance program that we could find, and we were finally accepted into a program that connected us to subsidized housing in Rodeo, CA. We were sad to leave Oakland, where we were born, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. We paid $1050/month and it was the best place either of us had ever lived. The landlord kept his properties really nice and clean, and he was nice to us. But Will got laid off from his job as a security guard 3 days after we moved in, so we could only pay the first month’s rent. The landlord tried to work with us; he let us delay our rent payment for 3 months until Will could find another job.

October 2015

Will was finally able to get some part time work, but we were too far behind on the bills at that point.

December 2015

We couldn’t pay rent plus 3 months of back rent in time.We received a two week eviction notice. We tried to take our case to court because Noah and Isaiah, our two infant children, were both on breathing machines for asthma at that time, but our stay of execution was denied despite the risk that homelessness posed (and does pose) to our children’s health. We moved our stuff into storage, and we’ve been homeless ever since.

January 2016

We scramble for motel rooms. When we can’t get a room, all 6 of us sleep in the truck. The motels are so expensive that we’ve been unable to afford our storage unit, so all we have is the clothes on our backs and whatever we can fit into the truck. We’ve applied for all of the social services and housing programs in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, and Sonoma County. Most turn us away outright. One service provider at Shelter, INC. told us, “Your situation is too much for us to handle; we can’t help you.” Another put us up in a hotel and promised to connect us to affordable long-term housing. But two weeks later, their funding was cut and they evicted us with no housing leads whatsoever. It’s a letdown when someone says they’re going to help you and then they say ,“Never mind, we’re not going to.”

Elijah, age 9

It’s hardest on the kids. Soriah age 3, keeps saying, “I want to go home! When are we going home?” Elijah’s grades took a nose dive. He started saying he was “bad at Math and bad at Science and bad at English.” Kids at school found out that our family is homeless and started teasing Elijah about it.

March 2016 — Present

Will’s mother Paula received a 27% rent increase notice from her landlord. A 45 year Oakland resident, Paula, unable to afford the rent increase on her fixed income, left her home to avoid getting slapped with an eviction. Less than three months after being displaced from her home, Paula was diagnosed with cancer. On the bright side, she may now be eligible for housing assistance.

Paula and Elijah

Homelessness is traumatizing. We’ve been diagnosed with illness and mental illness since becoming homeless. One night, 9 year old Elijah broke down and told us he couldn’t take living this way anymore. He said, “We’ve asked so many people for help, and everybody we ask says no.” Sometimes, the stress of being trapped all night in a truck with broken windows and a broken air conditioner with an infant, two toddlers, a severely distressed 9 year old, and each other is literally overwhelming. There’s no sleep for anybody. Not five minutes of quiet or time to be alone, 24 hours/day seven days/week. No way to shower or bathe for weeks at a time sometimes.

We experience discrimination from motel owners, service providers, and the police. Hotels have taken our money and then denied us a room. Our truck has been burglarized twice. Someone stole our medicine and our last pack of diapers. We’re already homeless and we have to deal with people stealing from us on top of everything else. But at the same time, we understand that people are desperate.

We are getting desperate.

Planting Justice would be grateful if you donated to the Beal family’s housing/survival fund.

Please donate to our housing/survival fund so we can sleep inside.