A homeless mom shares the struggle of raising a family on Sacramento’s streets

Those camping out on sidewalks aren’t the only homeless to consider

Raven Sparks says Sacramento needs more housing for low-income families.

Raven Sparks says Sacramento needs more housing for low-income families.


Raven Sparks leans against the railing on the balcony of her Courtyard Inn hotel room. She tries to keep a close ear on what’s inside, where seven of her eight kids are loudly playing with each other, watching TV or on the phone. This brand of hectic is her normal day—and, with eight kids, the nights aren’t too different, either.

Each evening, Sparks says her sons sleep in one bed and her daughters in the other, while she and her husband are on the floor. The family has been living like this since July 2015. And while her oldest children aren’t naive to the family’s predicament, the youngest still struggle to grasp the concept of being homeless.

“They don’t really understand how we got into this situation, because they always saw that mommy and daddy have always worked and provided,” Sparks told SN&R.

Like most people in her situation, the story of how Sparks’ family became homeless is complicated. It started with a Child Protective Services case, Sparks said, involving bad plumbing that caused the family’s home to be considered not habitable. Sparks’ eight kids were taken away for almost a year until CPS determined the case to be unfounded.

During that time, however, Sparks had to leave her job as a manager at Wal-Mart leaving only her husband as the primary source of income. The family of 10 lived with a family member from January to July in 2015 until things turned sour. That was when the family moved into the Courtyard Inn, and getting out has been no easy task.

To many, the face of homelessness is that of men and women walking the streets. They could be pushing around a cart with all of their belongings, or maybe standing at the center divider of a busy intersection panhandling to get money for the next meal.

An image Sparks thinks doesn’t come up often enough is a family like hers, struggling to make ends meet.

“Sacramento is worried about people sleeping on sidewalks, and there are hundreds of families out there that are homeless,” Sparks said. “There are so many families [at the Courtyard Inn], it’s ridiculous. And the only help they can get is a hotel voucher.”

Sparks is right about one thing: There are hundreds of families walking that thin line between poverty and homelessness.

The most recent Sacramento Steps Forward Point-in-Time Homeless Count, a yearly report required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that reveals the number of individuals who live on the streets or in shelters, reported 238 families living on the streets.

However, according to Cyndi Torres, program director of Maryhouse, a daytime shelter in the Loaves & Fishes complex, that number falls far short in reporting the real data about homeless families.

“We know that families are underrepresented and that there’s more homeless families outside. You just can’t find them,” Torres said. “Also, when you ask them, many families won’t say that they’re sleeping outside, because they’re afraid that CPS will remove their children.”

According to Maryhouse’s yearly intake data, the daytime shelter served 2,012 homeless women and 1,310 children in 2015. Although the daytime shelter doesn’t house the families overnight, it does provide women with survival services to help them take the next step in getting off the street, as well as the basic necessities to help them get through the day.

With less than a dozen overnight shelters in the area to house homeless families, many women and children are forced to find other means of lodging. Whether sleeping in cars, motel rooms or even tents, poverty-stricken families have different battles to fight than protesting an ordinance targeting homeless camping.

“It’s like they don’t see what’s going on. They’re so busy beautifying Sacramento that they’re forgetting about what’s in the shadows. And that’s us—we’re in the shadows,” Sparks said. “They don’t want us to be seen, but you can’t fix the outer and not the inner, because it’s always going to spill out.