Hi, I’m Sara Villavicencio and I am from Salinas, California. And this is my story of homelessness. The situation started when I left a domestic relationship and we found ourselves in a corner where we had to find safety and shelter. And we didn’t have much options of where to go, so a shelter opened up nearby and my family and I went there with no shoes. They had just a t-shirt and diapers, all three of them; they were really little.
And as we entered into the shelter, they had a Head Start center on the same property and since my son qualified – he was only about three years old and the twins were about two-and-a-half, and that’s when they noticed that two of – two of the children were not meeting their milestones. And they had, I guess, difficulty walking, talking, and making eye contact. They noticed, like, a lot of repetitive behavior. And I had blamed myself thinking that it’s because of what we went through, but a lot of it was due to their disabilities that were… We didn’t know about it until somebody had pointed it out. So I have never even heard of such disabilities or that there could be so many different types. I guess everyone has, like, a standard of what it’s supposed to look like. And so when they see my son or daughter now, "Funny, your child does not look disabled." Well what is disabled supposed to look like? And I had, like, just this image of what it's supposed to be, and it – it wasn’t.
So it turned out that Head Start ended up getting involved and starting speech therapy. And that was – that was kind of hard because we didn’t have a stable place to sit down and really work with them because we had to be back at the shelter and the regulations, and that -- that was difficult. It would have been nice to have the home provider to come to the house and talk and listen. But you couldn’t do that, you had to meet at the park. You had to meet wherever you could get your hands on.
In the middle of transitioning from homeless to an apartment of my own, between that gap, it was real tough transitioning because at the same time we’re working hard to find stability. And we had one of the facilitators from Head Start guiding me, like, almost every step of the way: trying to get all the paperwork together; signing all the forms; filling out like every single document for all three of them; and making sure that we needed to be where we needed to be.
And then after we moved in our apartment, it still wasn’t easy because there was no furniture. And there was still a routine because it was just take it as it goes. There was no nap time; there was no play time, no floor time. There was really no interaction. The only thing that we were focused on is making sure that they had, you know, breakfast, lunch, and dinner and clean clothes, and that was it.
But what – one thing that I did notice was that Head Start was providing is the education, the routine, the structures, and the constant phone calls of affirmation saying "you can do this," "you got this," you know, "don't – don’t give up," and "keep going," even when you’re at your lowest point and you're like, "I can’t do this." They would just come on in and help you do the work for you, take you where you needed to go. I think that was really supportive and a really good turning point right there. It just – a smoother transitioning from nothing to something.
Head Start helped me by being persistent and not giving up when our situation seemed lost and helpless. My provider put a lot of support and thought into everything that we had to do as far as being successful. Any skills that we had, or that I had, she found it and put it to use, like filing cabinets. She had me file away a couple of items in her office. And that was just one more thing to motivate us, to keep – keep a family together, because we were so used to having the cycle of your families are falling apart.
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Families with children under three really need Head Start and Early Head Start to support them in validating their strengths in what’s going right. I think that it’s such a hard thing when families are in crisis. You have to focus on the negative things, you have to focus on the struggle, and so everybody needs to be – to have that balance. And I think that we can be that voice for them at that time when they’re really having a hard time. Point out their strengths as a parent; and the fact that they enroll in our programs we know means that they care about their children and they want what’s best for them and they love them deeply. And things might be a little out of sorts right now, but they still know what’s best.
And we talk about strengths-based programs for families and for children, but especially in those times I think that we really have to be genuine. We have to be authentic in – in what we say and – and come across that we really, truly believe that, and – and that it’s not something empty. They… Our home visits, our interactions with them, really have to be joy-filled because it’s hard to keep going, to – to deal with the daily struggle. And so having that person or having those moments that all those struggles and all those problems can be set aside, and smile and maybe capture a couple of photos where their kids are connecting with them and – and laughing, and have a few pictures of – that will be a reminder of those moments, are really essential because it – it makes it easier to go on. It makes it easier to do that next best thing, that next right thing.
We also can help them sort through all the priorities because, in crisis, everything's important. There really isn’t that time where you can focus on help is – is going to be my focus today because when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, you don’t have transportation to get there, and you don’t have a place to live, it’s all important. So really helping indentify resources and – and working through those things and – and kind of being that – that little assistant or support to – to put all the resources out there that are available so that they can accomplish all these things and – as quickly as possible, and certainly at their direction. But it’s – it's just overwhelming, I think, to think that they have to do it on their own. And – and so let them know that they’re not alone, that we’re there with them.
It’s – it's really been my experience when working with families who are in crisis and who – or who are homeless that it’s important to verbalize to them what we’re thinking and feeling about their situation. Because it’s – it's heart-breaking sometimes, not their circumstances but their struggle and – and to – to know how hard they’re trying and – and how much they want. And especially when we start connecting with families, we really care for them and – and we really want the best for them.
So it’s really important in those times to verbalize how much we see their – their potential and how much we appreciate the work that they’re doing. And – and sometimes when we're feeling a little disconnected or – or sad for them, just say, "Wow, I see your struggle and this really impacts me." Because if we don’t verbalize it, they’re going to take it – maybe take that expression or lack of words and – and maybe disappointment or that – that we’re thinking the worst of them, and – and that’s certainly not true.
I’m – I'm really partial to the whole idea of comprehensive services for all children, but especially for homeless children. There's so many distractions and each person in the family is dealing with the situation in their own way that looking at each area of the child’s development, looking at – at all of the services that are necessary for good development, are especially important then because it’s easy for something to get overlooked. And when they’re – when they're so vulnerable and they're – they’re out of a consistent environment and a stable home, behavior that isn’t typical for them can maybe be mistaken for social-emotional adjustment when really it’s a health issue or a dental issue. Or maybe you might assume that there is something going on because they’ve got a runny nose, when really there’s a lot of stress behind it. So just taking that whole look at – at the child and the situation and the circumstances can help us to meet their individual needs and support them and – in working through it.
We’re working on goal setting and – and our requirements, and sometimes they can become conflicting. We want them to be consistent in the meeting times and places. We – we want them to be consistent with getting the requirements to us. But it’s really possible that in order to – to get their housing, they need to do a different appointment and get different paperwork together, and so adding in some flexibility or addressing that in – in some way so that the services that we are offering don’t become a – a strain or an additional stress. So it’s hard. We have our deadlines but the priorities in that particular situation are – are pretty set. They have to take care of housing and food and – and those kinds of things. They have to come first.
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