Did you know that there are over 1,300 students in the Compton schools who are currently homeless? It's a challenge for the Compton Unified School District that John Keane, the Administrator for Foster Youth in the Pupil Services Department, faces every day.
“John Keane has been coming through for me. He’s got some power to him,” says A.J., the father of three CUSD students who find themselves homeless. Keane and his team have been working with A.J. and other families with help finding housing, counseling as well as making sure they assist in the "little things" like having access to bus tokens, back packs and other supplies. The key is to make sure homeless children don't lose valuable classroom time.
"The success of our students, no matter what their situation, is our goal," says Keane.
A.J.'s story - which he recently shared with our reporter - provides a window into the many challenges homeless families face in Compton. His story also demonstrates that Keane and others at CUSD are making a difference in their lives.
A.J. and his three sons came to Compton two years ago, culminating a journey that he could not have ever imagined. A.J. (who understandably didn't want to use his real name) was born and raised in Los Angeles, but has been a traveling man, a spoken-word artist who lived in Paris, France and New York City working on his craft in spoken word and rap venues, and, as he says, ”just seeing the world."
His travels took him to Portland Oregon, where his life changed. He fell in love.
“I saw a home video, some chick on a home video and just knew she was the mother of my children, and for 14 years I stayed in Portland”, says, A.J.
He told himself that he was not going to be able to make the kind of money he needed if he were to go back home to L.A. and decided that Portland was a more suitable place to begin his family and focus on career in film and television.
“I did my big man stuff in a small pond.” He also became a father, three times.
After 14 years A.J. felt it was time to change things. The relationship with the mother of his sons had soured.
“We didn’t have a relationship; we didn’t love each other.” All she was doing, he says, was holding on to the kids. And the fatigue of holding on to one another was now unbearable.
A.J. left his sons and came back to Los Angeles, seeking a change. Seeking to plant himself back into his L.A. roots, he wasn't prepared for how things had changed.
"I’m brand new. I’m seeing people – not knowing that a generation has passed since I’ve been here. Inglewood is different. The Rams are coming back. I’m seeing gentrification here.”
Then he received a phone call that he wasn't expecting. His son's mother said she couldn't raise their boys anymore. While the timing wasn't perfect -- he was still trying to get settled in L.A. -- he knew he had to go get his children. He took the train to Portland and they returned to L.A.
“I came here with a plan. Coming here and having money saved up to get a house. I thought it was only a matter of time before I'd get a job. I was confident in that."
But like for many in LA County who struggle--the cost of housing was a hurdle.
"It was the affordable housing that was the issue. I didn’t know that Inglewood - when I came back - was gentrified, where a two bedroom is now $2,200 a month on Century and Prairie,” he recalls.
“We were going from motel to motel, but once documentation came into play and accountability for the services they offered, I had to go through those hoops. So we did the Motel 6 thing - $36 a bed… It got to the point and got so wicked we just went to Vegas and did $15-$20 a day – that was affordable housing," says A.J.
“We stayed in Vegas for a couple of months, then we came back here… and lived in the park and we stayed in the park for … way too long, man. And I was embarrassed and so – I never felt that. I never felt that kind of emotion. Because I couldn’t get the assistance from the services, with all these services – these social agencies they get millions of dollars but they can’t assist me. I didn’t come from a precondition. I didn’t come from a history of violence. I didn’t have no rap sheet."
The housing system has a formula and guidelines, where if you don’t fit into the formula – and if you can’t check the boxes and categories that determine one eligible, then you can’t get the help. Most services are set up to help single mothers, rarely are their programs available for single fathers.
"Seventeen months later we’ve been living in the car. For 17 months. I documented everyday through film, poetry, even making a documentary. That’s what helped me to get through it”, says, A.J.
Most importantly, his boys are in school.
For John Keane, A.J.'s story is one of hundreds that he has heard about families in transition. "A.J.’s three sons have been able to attend school and receive their education while the family is in transition," said Keane.
While A.J.'s sons are in school, he remains optimistic about the future.
“I’m always at the place I need to be and the pace and purpose of my path determines when I reach the goals. I don’t predict I only prepare.”
Thanks to Compton Unified, A.J. and his family have a chance.