Before the alarm goes off at 7:30 a.m., five people are crammed inside the Rios family trailer.
There are two narrow beds on either side of the 20-foot corridor that starts in the kitchen and ends in the bathroom. Catalina Rios usually shares one of those beds with her 5-year-old son. Her college-age daughter takes the other bed, and her two oldest sons sleep on the bench in the kitchen. Rios’ three boys need to be at school at 8 a.m., so after a hurried breakfast of tacos and juice, they filter slowly out of the front gate – the oldest, Carlos, walks ahead on his own while Rios holds the hands of Ricardo and Dariush. Before moving into their current trailer, Rios and her family lived in a junkyard in Chula Vista for almost two years. They couldn’t have the lights on after dark because they were afraid that if the county found out they were living on land that’s not zoned for residents, they would be forced to leave. It was difficult for Rios to get her children to school on time.
This web documentary explores the life of a family struggling with homelessness in San Ysidro. It is part of a series on the hidden homeless families of San Diego’s South Bay.
In the 2015-2016 school year, 1,862 students, or about one-third of the total population, were identified as homeless by the San Ysidro School District. Most of the families considered homeless by the district live in similar situations to the Rioses. Many end up in substandard housing arrangements because it’s all they can afford. Most of the time this means that multiple families will share a small apartment. Sometimes entire families will live in a small room, and in extreme cases, families will pack into trailers in junkyards, or even live in shipping containers.
Catalina Rios bought the trailer that her family sleeps in now, but she still has to pay rent for the space it is parked on. Like most of the trailers that surround her lot, Rios’ trailer has not been mobile for a long time. The roof leaks when it rains, and the space is much too small to accommodate so many people. It’s too cramped for all five Rios family members to be inside the trailer at once, unless they’re sleeping. But it is still better than the junkyard they were living in before.