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Special Report: Sacramento’s Homeless Student Population Exploding

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Sam Shane Sam Shane
Sam Shane graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.A. in...
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SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — At first blush when talking to 14-year-old Lamonte Franks, you’d never know he’s homeless.

“First period, science, second period, computers, third period, English,” he rattles off his school schedule.

Lamonte’s 11-year-old sister, Lashelle, who’s in the sixth grade, is a bit more willing to talk about it. She’s looking forward to having her own room some day.

street smarts Special Report: Sacramentos Homeless Student Population Exploding

Lamonte Franks, 14, goes to school during the day and lives in a homeless shelter at night. (credit: CBS13)

“At school, do kids, do they know?” CBS13’s Sam Shane asks Lamonte.

“No,” he replies.

Their mother is Diane Williams. She’s 46, she can’t find a job, and she doesn’t have a place to live.

A homeless shelter in Sacramento, St. John’s Shelter Program, is home to Williams and her kids these days.

Their day typically starts at 5:30 a.m. Lamonte takes a shuttle to a regional transit train, which he rides to school.

When he gets to school, chances are Lamonte will not talk to the other students about being homeless.

“Some people know. Some people don’t,” he says. “Like if they ask me where I live, I’m like, ‘I live in the shelter, like most people don’t know.”

Lashelle says kids know that she’s homeless.

“Yeah, some of ‘em do and my teacher knows,” she says.

All of it weighs heavily on Diane.

“It’s so hard to keep them positive and keep them going to school and keep them on the right track,” she says, crying. “Because if you blink an eye, the streets will take your kids and I don’t want to be one of those mothers who, my kids skip school, or my kids, I don’t know where they’re at or something. I’m not that type of mom.”

Diane’s struggle is one shared by a growing number of families.

“I have seen an increase, yes,” says Brenda Ginther, a third-grade teacher in Sacramento.

In fact, Brenda and other teachers in the Sacramento City Unified School District have seen a dramatic increase in the number of students who have no home.

In their district alone, the number of homeless students has doubled from nearly 900 to more than 1,800 in just one year.

“We have children living out of cars,” says second-grade teacher Nanci Gilbert. “We have children living in homes that people just told them they could live in where there’s no heat, no electricity, there’s no running water.

While her kids are at school, Diane works at a restaurant run by the shelter, making contacts and learning a trade.

“Jobs are scarce,” she says. “I mean I have tried to apply at McDonald’s. I’m either overqualified or I don’t have enough skills, you know what I mean? It’s so hard.”

Much of what she owns can be found in a few plastic tubs on bunk beds in a small room where she and her two children sleep in the crowded shelter.

“I didn’t see it coming. Never saw it coming,” she says.

But it’s here. This is life for Diane and her kids. Lamonte, who rides the train, and Lashelle, who rides a bus, go to school hoping to have what most kids in their class have — a home.

“If you could make something happen in your life for you and your brother and your mom, what would it be?” Shane asks.

“A house, money and a dog,” she says. Then add, “And a car, too.”

Through it all, Diane tries her best to stay upbeat.

“Are you hopeful for your children?” Shane asks.

“Am I hopeful? Yes.”

“Do you think they’ll have a better life than you’ve had?” she’s asked.

“I hope so. I hope so,” she says.

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