On a weekday afternoon, Elvia Baies’ two teenage daughters finish up their school day while her younger children, a 4 and 5-year-old, play on tablets.
Baies asks them to turn the tablets down and then points out the tight space where they’ve lived for nine months.
“This is obviously the room that we're sleeping in, our two beds, we have a TV across from the beds,” Baies says.
On the far end of the room, she opens a door.
“Our bathroom, and our tub, our sink, along with our kitchen.”
She points out their pots and pans in the bathroom because there is no kitchen in the one-bedroom space. In the main space they have a mini-fridge, microwave, and toaster oven.
Every day, they set up two folding tables as desks for the kids who are doing online school.
Baies’ older daughters are 13 and 17. They say they haven’t told their friends about their situation. The 13-year-old, Ariel, put it like this:
“People are so judgy,” Ariel says. “I just wish they would understand where other people come from.”
Baies jumps in to say just last week, there was a shooting on the premises and someone live streamed the hotel guests evacuating. There were lots of comments online.
“They were saying, ‘Oh, look at all those homeless people, they're all drug addicts,’” says Baies. “It's like, wait a minute, we're not in that situation. And I think that’s where they come from, they're like, ‘Mom, that's not what we do.’”
Baies says she has to stay optimistic, there isn’t an alternative.
“I can't let them see me worry because then they’re gonna stress and then they’re gonna panic, and it’s just not gonna get us anywhere,” says Baies.
She says, it could be much worse. They could be on the streets.
The family of six and their small dog came to the hotel last November, after Baies put work on hold to take care of a medical issue, which included surgery. Her husband took some time off to care for her, and pretty soon, they were late on rent payments.
They were evicted from their apartment. They’ve since gotten their finances in order. Her husband now has a job cleaning pools, but the eviction is its own barrier.
“Before everything hit, we had a couple places that were willing to rent to us, but then when they did the background check, the eviction shows up,” says Baies. “So it's been a little bit harder. So, that’s why we're looking for somebody that will private-own, or rent to us.”
The pandemic also doesn’t make the process any smoother. They have to do virtual tours of rentals instead of in-person.
The family has been able to stay safe from COVID-19: They wear masks and practice social distancing when they go out. But all the precautions mean the kids haven’t seen their friends.
“Because of this whole COVID-19 I kind of do miss school and it's surprising that I'm saying it, but I do miss it,” laughs Savannah, Baies’s 17-year old.
Savannah is a senior this year, and says it’s hard knowing that she might not get her senior prom, graduation, or her last season of high school softball. She still plays on a travel team and is hoping to get a softball scholarship to California State University, Chico.
Her younger sister, Ariel, says she misses playing the clarinet with the middle school marching band.
“I just miss walking around the track practicing marching band and I can't do that anymore,” says Ariel.
The family has been making school work, though. They received an internet hotspot from Kern High School District, where Savannah attends. Baies says most days, it works pretty well. Also, due to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the children have been able to stay with the schools they were attending before the eviction.
Along with staying in their schools, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools has offered the family other resources set aside for students experiencing housing insecurity.
Before finding the program, Baies says she didn’t know how they would manage. “I was kind of stressing because I’m like, how are we going to do it with three in school, three on computers? How?”
When she got in touch with officials at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, they explained that the students could stay at their home school, even if they move to another city within the county. Baies says their liaison also gave them backpacks, school supplies, and hygiene products, which has been a big help.
Baies says she wants school to resume in-person. Then, she could get a job during the day.
In the meantime, they’re making it work at the hotel, even though it’s more costly than renting an apartment. And they’re constantly looking for their future home.
“We look almost every day, if not every other day,” says Baies. “Even my kids are helping, they’re on Craigslist, they’re on apartments.com, they’re on rent.com, everything. We're looking all the time.”
She had hoped 2020 would be a better year, after recovering from surgery and getting evicted. Now, she’s hoping 2021 will be the year things turn around.