Ramona had a pretty normal upbringing but things got tricky when she got pregnant at 15 and had to drop out of school in the eleventh grade. Today Ramona is 34 and has six kids to 3 fathers: ages 2, 3, 11, 13, and 14. She has the youngest three and the other three stay with their fathers and she sees them when school is out and on holidays. For five years she lived on Martin Luther King Boulevard and paid rent. Before she became pregnant with her 3-year old Quincy'ana, she worked as a caregiver for the elderly. The house she was living in was foreclosed on in 2008 and she lost her Section 8 in 2009. She fought the foreclosure for three years, managed to get the case to court, but didn't make it to the court date because her foot was fractured by the property gate falling on her.
In October 2011, Ramona was forced out into the streets with her three kids. From October through January she stayed at the West Wind Lodge motel paying thousands of dollars a month to keep a roof over her kids' heads. In January when she ran out of money she actually called Mayor Jean Quan's office to explain her situation and seek some relief. The administration tried to connect Ramona with a shelter but the plan didn't succeed and Ramona ended up traveling to San Rafael to stay with her sister. After a couple weeks, Ramona felt like she was no longer welcome and returned to the Bay by bus and Bart. She and her kids stayed in a friend's basement for some time, using a washing machine to wash their clothes, bathe, and everything. By the beginning of April, Ramona found herself on the streets. The shelters were full.
How Ramona survived the streets is unclear. She says not knowing where her family was going to sleep was her biggest fear every day. "There was a time when I wanted to go to Berkeley and panhandle on San Pablo with a sign." Every day she could not believe what was happening to her, "I was in shock," she recalls. St. Vincent De Paul, a church in Oakland that Ramona had attended since she was a child, played a huge role in her survival - providing meals, showers, laundry, blankets, diapers and more. Living on the streets definitely hardened Ramona and her relationship with American society. "We the victims and they wanna make us look like the suspects."
Ramona was able to find housing, get her Section 8 back, and get off the streets thanks to her Uncle John. He is the hero of this story. He called her up one day and told her firmly that she needed to come see a house down the street in West Oakland that was available and he could help connect her with the landlord. By September 2012, Ramona and her family were housed again.
Life remains a daily struggle. Ramona is caring for her three children full-time and barely surviving on $300 a month of EBT. After they get all the necessary immunizations and paperwork, Quincy'ana, 3 and Quincy, 2 will start pre-school. Jaheem, 11, is attending Middle School. This will be Ramona's first opportunity in years to breathe for a moment and she is dreaming of going to Laney College and get a business license to open her own business - maybe opening a daycare, perhaps an arts & crafts business, or a business where she can work outside - like gardening.
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