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Special Report - Children of Hope

Poverty Forces Families to Seek Refuge in Cars, RVs

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Posted: Nov 13, 2012 9:45 PM

Updated: Nov 14, 2012 7:43 AM

McALLEN - Poverty is a serious problem in Hidalgo County, statistics show. Many families have lost their homes and now sleep in their cars or even park benches.

The families often go unnoticed, but they are there, experts said.

Sarah's family is one of those statistics.

"I wouldn't even wish this on my worst enemy ... Never," Sarah said.

Sarah lives on the road. Homelessness for Sarah's family runs three generations deep.

Sarah, her mother and her two children don't own much more than their car. Sarah sits behind the wheel. Her mother sits next to her and the two children are in the back seat.

The family lives in the car.

"I love my kids. I'm trying so hard," Sarah said.

Sarah hides her children's identity. She is afraid the state will try to take them from her.

"My daughter, my oldest has had two seizures," she said.

Sarah's mother was the family's primary provider, until she lost her job.

Sarah was disabled in 2007. She said an accident on the road resulted in her life in a car now.

"We were left in the streets," Sarah said.

The family went to every upper Valley city looking for a place to live. They were told they were not candidates for priority housing.

It is a similar situation for Amanda Lance. The woman raises three grandsons in a small RV.

"It's really, really overwhelming. All of it ... it's really a lot," Lance said.

Ramsey is 3, Silas 5 and Michael 7.

The grandmother spent all of her money on their small home.

Her financial situation worsened when her father died. The bills were too much.

"It's good being with our grandmother, but in this house?" Michael said. "There's no space to move around at all."

The living area is small.

"This is where I sleep," Michael said showing the small space.

The space is so tight, that the boys don't have room to move. The kitchen is within arm's reach.

"This is not a real kitchen. It's a hallway and a kitchen," Michael said.

The floor is broken and most of the family's possessions are outside, tucked under a temporary shelter.

"I thought when I stood in front of the judge and said that I would take care of them, I would do that. To me, this is not what I said I was going to do," Lance said.

Lance said Michael told his teacher he feels more comfortable at school.

"I don't like to leave Lark, because it's more fun at Lark," the child said.

Lance is on disability. She is a hairdresser, but her arthritis prevents her from working.

Lance gets government assistance, but the check does not cover the family's monthly expenses.

"This is so gross. I cannot believe this," Lance said.

Lance was lucky. She got a hand up.

"I see poverty increasing," Advocacy Resource Center for Housing Executive Director San Juanita Maldonado said.

ARCH is a non-profit agency. It helps struggling families, but the program is limited.

Workers at the center can't give housing, but it is their goal to help families before they become homeless.

"We get about 300 calls a week," Maldonado said. She is not sure if some families are calling multiple times.

She said ARCH workers are overwhelmed. She said it's not possible to keep up with the demand.

"By the time we assist 10 to 15 families in one month, we've turned down at least 30 to 40," Maldonado said.

"These are not all the calls. There's no way to service all 300 calls. There's just no way," she said.

Maldonado said about 80 to 90 percent of the people seeking help have children.

Federal money isn't enough to cover every case, she said.

That leaves people like Sarah wondering what to do.

"I don't know where to go. I just wish there was somebody out there that was like, ‘This family really does need help. Let's go help them,'" she said crying.

Frustration sometimes turns to desperation.

"It makes me feel like I'm letting them down really bad, and I didn't do any of this," Lance said holding back tears.

"I got to be strong. I can't cry in front of my mom. I have to be strong for her," Sarah said.

Sarah and Lance said their reality is overwhelming. Life in a car or small RV is not a home, but the children have no choice.

Like them, there are thousands more in Hidalgo County.

Statistics show that nearly 120,000 children live below the poverty line in Hidalgo County.

Topics: amanda lance, poverty, rio grande valley, mcallen

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