Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in your car parenting your children, day in and day out because you have nowhere else to live? This is a devastating reality for many families in the Bay Area due to their homelessness or housing insecurity. Here at BANANAS, our Family Navigators work with these parents everyday through our CARE program (Childcare Access Referrals Ensured), which provides enhanced support to them so they can access services and subsidized child care. Attending a child care program provides young children a consistent place of belonging where they are safe and nurtured, so they can rest and eat healthy food, and have play-based experiences that support their development. And parents can maintain their employment, take care of business, and secure other services while their children are cared for on a dependable schedule.

The face of homelessness has changed in the last five years. Historically, emergency shelters and other support programs were designed to serve single, adult males usually with mental health and substance abuse challenges. Today, many more families with children and seniors are joining the ranks of the unhoused. Housing costs have increased beyond what low-income and middle-income families can afford to pay, thus leading to rising rates of homelessness seen among parents and their children. As a result, 8,000 families and 14,000 children were homeless in California in 2019.*

As a result, 8,000 families and 14,000 children were homeless in California in 2019.*

The housing crisis many low and moderate income families experience is partially the result of the 2008 recession which was the capstone of years of predatory lending and the substantial number of resulting foreclosures in these communities. Properties were acquired by opportunistic investors who then rented these homes for much higher rents which is why families in these communities have such high rent burdens of 50% or more. This is the profile for many of our CARE families – predominately Black and Brown mothers and some couples with their children are just one incident away from being unhoused. Our safety net system is not equipped for the newly unhoused and most shelters are not designed to house women with children or couples with children, forcing families to split up.

For reasons like this, mothers, dads, and their children end up living in their car, couch surfing, or living outdoors. Parents feel anxious, exhausted, and experience trauma while living in unsafe conditions in addition to the concerns they have about their children’s well-being. These mothers are also working women. 90% of families in the BANANAS CARE program are employed full-time. The high cost of Bay Area rent impacts low and middle-income families especially hard. They often pay 50% or more of their income on housing, much more than the 30% recommended as sustainable and affordable. One unexpected expense or reduction of income because of illness or caregiving can destabilize a fragile situation and literally toss a family out of their housing.

The goals of the BANANAS CARE program are to lift unhoused families out of crisis, provide them access to supportive services, all while treating them with dignity and respect. Parents are supported by a team of Family Resource Navigators. Our Family Navigators do just that – help families navigate the myriad services available to them. Accessing child care is a necessity as the overwhelming majority of CARE families are employed full-time. A secondary goal of CARE is to eliminate the barriers and silos families face trying to navigate between various social services and safety net programs.

Started in 2018, the BANANAS CARE program began through a collaborative effort by partners from First 5 Alameda County, Alameda County Social Services Agency, Family Front Door, ALL IN, Alameda County Early Care & Education Program, Parent Voices Oakland, and Supervisor Wilma Chan’s Office. The strength of this group helped “birth” the CARE program and continues to nurture and develop its growth. The Hellman Foundation supports the continuation of this program recognizing the importance of affecting systems change to enable low-income and marginalized communities to access the services designed to support them.

Next in this series:

Part 2: Domestic Violence: Motherhood Survival
Part 3: Doubling Up & Couch Surfing: The Hidden Homeless


For more information about the BANANAS CARE program and Navigation Services visit https://bananasbunch.org/parents-families/parent-programs-services/

*California’s homelessness crisis-and possible solutions-explained, CalMatters, January 2020

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