"The person next to you at times could be homeless and little do you know that they are. So when people see homeless, I wish society would try to help ... I wish society would be more gentle with words sometimes."
His grades have dropped - he'll have to repeat 5th grade. His self esteem is falling. And he is often afraid. "I try to save food," Tristen said. "If we're going to run out of food I'll only eat a little of it and save it for later," Tristen said.
This is the saddest thing I've ever heard. I've been praying all night for these children, and a few that go to our school as well who are single mothers. I've been worried for months about all these families losing their homes. Where do they go, especially if they have school-age children? Where do they live? Last week our local news showed a family with 6 young children sleeping on a mattress outside their own home, on the curb area. The children were shivering under one blanket. The father and mother stayed up all night to protect their little ones.
The bank had foreclosed on them after a man they met at church took their life savings, promising he would modify their mortgage. Obviously a predatory con man who knew he would find innocent prey at a church. This father paid his mortgage on time to this man for over a year, but the con man never paid the bank. The bank even locked them out of their yard, so they were forced to sleep on the other side of the sidewalk. The 14-year-old son was fighting back tears. He had to go to school that morning, but hadn't had any sleep. Imagine the humiliation at that age, just as a boy is trying to have it all together in high school. The father was on his way to work at a restaurant. The family had always paid their bills on time, and lived in the small house for several years. God Bless these families.
HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN IN AMERICA IN THE 21st CENTURY?
Losing Homes And Ending Childhoods
CBS Reports: Economic Meltdown Leaves Homeless Children To Grow Up Fast
by Byron Pitts
Meet 11-year old Tristen Clarke, and his mother Rhonda. If you want to understand what it means to be a homeless child in this recession, walk a day in Tristen's size 7 sneakers.
"How is life for you?" asked CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts.
"Pretty bad," Tristen said. "Everything has gone down the drain. We don't have enough money to pay, we can't afford food."
At schools teachers describe Tristen as a sweet boy: smart and innocent.
"I feel lucky about my life because right now I'm not really on the street or in a cardboard box," Tristen said.
Instead, he and his mom live in the El Dorado Motel on a busy street in a tough neighborhood in Salinas, Calif. There are 22 other homeless families here.
They landed here after she lost her job in January as a job coach for people with disabilities. That means a cramped space, no car and no health insurance. There's just a bed for her, an air mattress for him, and a plastic bowl for Tristen's turtle. Last week Rhonda's $90 weekly unemployment check stopped.
"I try to save food," Tristen said.
"What do you mean?" Pitts asked.
"If we're going to run out of food I'll only eat a little of it and save it for later," Tristen said.
His grades have dropped - he'll have to repeat 5th grade. His self esteem is falling. And he is often afraid.
"I thought I was going to lose everything yesterday," Tristen said. "I thought we were going to lose everything."
"That scare you because that's a possibility?" Pitts asked.
"Yeah," Tristen said.
"Because you've lost things before?" Pitts asked.
"Yeah, I have," Tristen said.
Behind his Harry Potter face is a child in crisis. With his mother's permission, Pitts and Tristen kept talking.
"Find the words for me," Pitts said.
"Life and death," Tristen said.
"You think about life and death?" Pitts asked. "Why do you think about things like that?"
"Because I gave up," said Tristen, crying.
For the homeless children at the El Dorado Motel, life is often bleak. But there are a few bright spots. Like many school districts across the country, Salinas has a homeless children's advocate. Cheryl Camany helps identify homeless children and provides resources and free supplies.
As for Tristen Clarke, he says he has one real friend - 8-year-old Gus Hernandez, Jr. They're neighbors. Gus is also homeless.
"Me and him share the same life," Tristen said. "He understands me and I understand him."
They also share the same risk. Even a simple game of soccer can be dangerous ... when the ball rolls right into traffic. For their safety, the boys were ordered back to their rooms by the motel owner.
Anger and frustration brews in Gus every day. He lives with both parents and 4-year-old brother. They owned a house until Gus Sr. lost his job as a mortgage loan processor. The bank foreclosed on their home.
"My life is dumb," said Gus Jr. "We have to live in a motel, have to be in at a certain time. Can't play anywhere, and most of my friends are there."
"That must be hard?" asked Pitts.
"Today was a worse day, tomorrow may be better," Gus said.
"That makes you an optimist?" asked Pitts.
"Yeah," Gus said.
Later, Pitts went to talk to Tristen.
"What do you want Americans to know about you, what it means to be a child and homeless in America?" Pitts asked.
"We need people to help," Tristen said.
Where you can offer help if you're able, or receive help if you need it:
Family Promise of Sacramento
Mustard Seed School
The National Center on Family Homelessness
National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth