This is paradise?

UPDATE: ‘Homeless on loose ground after city evictions’  ran in the Nov. 9 edition of Vida en el Valle. View Vida’s photo gallery of the eviction’s here.

This is paradise, I’m tellin’ ya,’ read a framed movie poster, propped up on a chair outside of a tent on H Street, under the Highway 41 overpass. But when Mondo, a 26-year-old homeless man, emerged from the tent, his emotions betrayed the sentiment of the famous line from the 1983 movie ‘Scarface.’

“Apparently we are not allowed to live right here,” said Mondo, who wore a Fresno State Bulldogs hat and slippers. “They are kicking us all out – I don’t know why.”

As he spoke, the McLane High School graduate loaded up a shopping cart with his few possessions: clothes that are still in good shape, underwear, some hats, a couple blankets, and the recyclable copper he sells for spare change.

One hundred-some people – including Mondo – are being  forced out of their only homes this week as part of a City of Fresno effort to clear the downtown homeless encampments. City officials said the homeless would be connected with social services, but so far, Mondo had heard nothing.

“No housing, no nothing, no direction – nothing,” he said.

As we spoke a California Highway Patrol officer approached us, and informed Mondo he could store his valuables for up to 90 days. The officer offered Mondo a clear plastic bag for his possessions.

But Mondo said he was taking his important possessions with him to breakfast at the Poverello House, which began at 8:30 a.m.

 “I want to go make it for breakfast – I’m hungry,” Mondo said. “Come on Hudini, let’s go,” he said to a small, tan-colored dog that had taken up refuge in his tent. “Come on, loco.”

He began pushing his cart – piled high with his possessions, with the ‘Scarface’ poster teetering on top – down H Street. Then the poster fell off his cart, the glass shattering across the street.


Read more about the city’s efforts to clear out the homeless encampments in next week’s edition of Vida en el Valle. Photos by Daniel Cásarez.

The great chocolate milk debate: Does it do a body good?

UPDATE: Read ‘Chocolate, strawberry milk fall out of flavor’ here.

Since Los Angeles Unified School District last week became the largest school district in the nation to ban chocolate and strawberry milk from school menus, the topic of flavored milk has received a lot of regional attention.

So what are the policies on flavored milk in San Joaquín Valley school districts? I was curious to find out how the region’s high levels of poverty, and high rates of overweight and obese kids, would play into the discussion.

Here’s a regional overview of chocolate milk policies. I’ll add more to this list as I hear about them!

In Modesto: Criss Atwell, of Modesto City Schools, said the district is keeping flavored milk on the menu, in an effort to ensure that the district’s low-income students continue to receive adequate nutrition at school.

“We have concerns that eliminating chocolate milk could impact many students’ calcium and Vitamin D intake, since lunch may be the only complete meal some students consume all day,” Atwell said in an email.

In Manteca: The Manteca Unified School District – which in 2009 won seven Gold School Awards in the HealthierUS School Challenge, through the US Department of Agriculture – is not considering banning chocolate milk from its lunch menu. (The district does not offer strawberry milk, which contains even more sugar.)

Instead, the district switched to chocolate milk made without corn syrup, and is working on reducing the number of grams of sugar per container, according to Patty Page, director of nutrition services.

“The other thing that is important to me is teaching children about making wise choices,” Page said in an e-mail. “I think that they should understand that although they may have a sweet tooth, it is healthier to choose chocolate milk rather than soda. Although it does have sugar, it also has other health benefits, unlike soda.”

In Fresno: José Alvarado, of the Fresno Unified School District, said the district is “looking into all sugars on the menu,” including in flavored milk and juices.

“It’s not necessarily just chocolate milk that has sugar,” he said in a phone interview.

In Earlimart: The district stopped serving chocolate milk in April, said food service director Clint Lara. The district now offers just 2% milk and non-fat milk.

“Yeah, we beat LA, they just got all the attention,” Lara said.

What is your take? Here’s mine: I admit, chocolate milk will always hold a special place in my heart. It tasted great with my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in third grade.

More on chocolate milk in schools:

Formerly homeless youth describes reporting on homeless youth

The last story in Vida’s three-part series on youth homelessness ran in this week’s edition of Vida.

This week’s story is a little different: It’s a first-person piece, written by youth journalist Marcus Vega (pictured above), about his own experience working on this project, as a formerly homeless youth himself.

His words are powerful:

In the process of hearing the stories of other homeless, I think of my own experience. I was homeless too at one point, and sort of am still since I live with a friend’s family.

All I remember is dwelling in an abandoned apartment, being hungry all the time, and the never-ending struggle to find a roof over my head.

Read the rest of Marcus’ story here.

Catch up on the other parts of the series here:

Read past blogs about this project here:

VIDEO on youth homeless, and how you can help

The first part of our two-part series on youth homelessness and education ran in this week’s edition of Vida en el Valle.

The main story, about Anissa Gutierriez and her children’s struggles to access education while homeless, can be found here. The sidebar, about Susan Cavazos, and the general challenges homeless families face in accessing education, can be found here.

To accompany the stories, Vida photographer and videographer Daniel Cásarez produced the short video above about youth homelessness and homelessness in Fresno. In the video, you will meet Susan Cavazos. You will also get a tour of the Fresno Rescue Mission Emergency Family Shelter, and visit Fresno’s homeless encampments.

If reading these stories, and watching this video, inspires you to do something to help the homeless in our community, consider this: The Fresno Rescue Mission shelter accepts all sorts of donations. Shelter manager Robin Bump (also featured in the video) told us the shelter especially needs bath towels right now.

  • Donating is easy. Call (559) 440-0870 to arrange for clothing and household goods to be picked up at your home. You can also deliver used goods to the Mission’s Super Thrift Store, 181 E. Sierra, or to the Donation Station, 310 G St.

Next week: The challenges unaccompanied homeless youth face in accessing education.

A new home, a new sense of hope

A few weeks ago, readers of this blog met Anissa Gutierrez, a homeless woman who was living in the Fresno Rescue Mission Shelter with her three young children. Read the blog post here.

This morning, I walked with Anissa Gutierrez and her three children – Lily, Gavien, and Deon – from their temporary home at the Fresno Rescue Mission Shelter to Lincoln Elementary School.

We turned left out of the shelter, passing the Poverello House, another homeless shelter. We took a short cut to avoid passing the Village of Hope – a community of small sheds, which, Gutierrez said, have stinky Porta-Potties that make the children cringe. We walked past homeless encampments – tents and makeshift shelters – that line the street, and then walked along the Highway 99 overpass.

Here’s what Gutierrez and her children pass on their daily walk:

Along the route to school, Gutierrez greeted people on the street – people, she said, who have become part of her family’s daily routine. Eight-year-old Lily showed me a temporary Spiderman tattoo on her arm. Then she scampered ahead, her pink ‘New Kids on the Block’ bag bouncing against her small body.

It seemed like things had improved since Gutierrez and I had last spoke. Yesterday, little Deon turned five. They celebrated with a banana walnut Spiderman-themed cake at the shelter.

And Gutierrez had good news: She had found a two-bedroom apartment with a monthly rent of $450, and was planning on moving out of the Rescue Mission shelter in the next day or two.

She had told me before how thankful she was for the assistance provided by the shelter: “They get to go to school everyday and know they ate, know they have somewhere to go home to, know they have a bed to sleep in tonight, and food to eat.”

Still, she said, she and the kids were excited to go home. Living in the shelter, and walking that route to school, had emphasized for her kids the importance of education, Gutierrez said. But having a steady home would help them achieve that goal.

“A lot of these children don’t know what it’s like to live in a house because they’ve never lived in a house,” said Laura Tanner McBrien, of Fresno Unified School District’s Department of Prevention and Intervention.

“So how do you dream about your future when you haven’t experienced living in a house or having things?”

Top photo, of a room in the Fresno Rescue Mission Shelter, by Daniel Cásarez of Vida en el Valle.

Read more about this family’s struggles to access education in an upcoming edition of Vida en el Valle.