An estimated 17,000 children are homeless in Los Angeles school district
"I wish we could have a house," said 6-year-old Kai Eddings, as he sat next to his 7-year-old sister Heaven Eddings in the Los Angeles motel they have lived in for a year. The siblings have been homeless for two years, ever since their parents lost their steady jobs.
When asked if they understand why they live in the motel, Heaven told CBS News' Maria Elena Salinas it's because they "don't have enough money. That's it."
"Why would you tell that? Mommy said not to tell," Kai chided. Both children covered their mouths. "I'm sorry," Heaven answered.
Their parents, Robert and Kristin Eddings, said they do not hide their poverty from their kids. "We don't want them to feel out of place at school," Kristin Eddings said. "We don't want to be the— the pity charity case, you know, in school or anything like that." "We want them to be as normal as, you know, can be," her husband added.
Kai and Heaven are just two of the estimated 17,000 homeless children in the L.A. Unified School District. A staggering 85% of children in the school district live in poverty.
Superintendent Austin Beutner said that the L.A. Unified School District is beginning to advocate for more resources in school to help combat the ongoing homeless crisis, but that they receive zero incremental dollars from the state to try and help homeless families.
Beutner estimated that the real number of homeless children is "closer to 30,000."
When asked what she would want people to know about situations like hers, Kristin Eddings — who said she came from a middle class family — warned that "it can happen to anyone."
She was making $52,000 a year as a store manager while her husband had a full-time job at a janitorial company when they lost their jobs. With the average rents in Los Angeles skyrocketing 65% over the last 10 years, people need to earn close to $72,000 to just afford a two-bedroom apartment.
Families like the Eddings are left to resort to "interim housing," or living in motels and effectively being homeless. Many motels used for that purpose are located along California's Sepulveda Boulevard, where crime and prostitution are rampant in certain areas.
Manny Flores, executive director of the North Valley Caring Services, helps hundreds of families living in similar situations. He detailed the perils of families living in the poor areas where motels used for interim housing are located.
"Unfortunately we have experienced child abduction. We've experienced domestic violence," he explained.
Flores said that for children, "growing up in a motel is traumatic in itself" due to the frequent criminal elements they are exposed to.
At the motel where the Eddings family has been living, there were more than 30 assaults and over 20 incidents of domestic violence reported in 2019.
The L.A. Unified School District allocated 500 Section 8 housing vouchers for families, but over three-quarters of them go unused because landlords frequently refuse tenants with the federal subsidy.
Robert Eddings recently landed a new job. For his children, that means their dreams for the future could be even more of a possibility.
"I wanna be a scientist. I wanna be smart," 7-year-old Heaven Eddings said.