This story follows conversations the 10 Words team had with many people in the community, who told us that homelessness and affordable housing are two issues topping their list of concerns. Tell us what issues affect your family.

Matthaja Taylor, 11, and her 3-year-old brother Mattsaiah Taylor are a lot like kids you may know.

"We watch PAW Patrol together," Matthaja said, as her little brother squirmed playfully on her lap.

Their living situation, however, makes their story unique - and sad. At the time of this interview, these two were living with their mom and dad, plus five other siblings, in a single motel room.

Nine people. Two beds. One bathroom.

It's "very crowded," Matthaja described. "Sometimes loud but sometimes quiet. We'll watch movies sometimes. We'll have a family night, we'll eat popcorn."

When asked how she studies with all her sisters and brothers around, Matthaja explained, "I sit on the bed when they're playing outside and just study."

Matthaja is a sixth grader at Encina Preparatory High School.

That's part of the San Juan Unified School District, which covers most communities in northeast Sacramento County. It's the state's 11th largest public school district, by enrollment.

Last school year, 49,255 students were enrolled at San Juan USD, some 3,400 hundred of which were experiencing homelessness.

That means nearly 7 percent of the district's entire student population had no permanent place to live, and school officials say this year's count is on track to surpass that number.


ABC10 News learned about this statistic while covering the Sacramento Housing Alliance's third annual Regional Affordable Housing Summit in late October, where a San Juan USD official shared that snapshot of student homelessness.

RELATED: Sacramento's affordable housing, homelessness issues tackled at summit

Melanie Barbeau is a school community worker at Encina Prep.

"It's not about blaming. It's about finding solutions in our society to help people find housing," she said.

Barbeau is one of the district's three McKinney-Vento liaisons. That's part of a federal program that, in part, helps kids experiencing homelessness get to school.

"It's our job to make sure that those rights don't get violated and, you know, the families and students we have get their equitable access to education," Barbeau said.

Homelessness is defined more broadly in school districts than just living outside or in a shelter. Kids can be living with friends, couch surfing or - in the case of Matthaja and her family - sleeping in a motel room.

RELATED: Woman living in car shares story of homelessness

ABC10 asked San Juan USD whether a family in the district that's experiencing homelessness might be willing to share their story.

Matthaja's and Mattsaiah's mom - Shaquita Sibley - and dad agreed, in hopes someone may see this and have a house they can rent.

"I have seven kids and I have a baby on the way, so I'm like, 'Whoever wants to help us let us move in their place, I want to move in wherever,'" Sibley told ABC10 News in a conference room at Encina Prep.

The motel, she said, was costing the family $1,350 a month.

Sibley and her family did have an apartment last year, paying $875 per month, she said, but when a family with a more secure source of monthly rent came along, the landlord gave her family 60 days to move out.

"You got to give up your apartment or get an eviction," Sibley explained. "You wouldn't have nowhere to stay after 7 years. You'd have to wait 7 years to get a place."

That's because negative information - including evictions - stays on credit reports for 7 years, generally.

"This family I have worked with for the past couple of years, and they get their kids to school every day," Barbeau said, of Sibley and her family. "The mom makes it an effort, and...the dad's a great person also. He's in school conferences and that's why he wasn't able to be here. But they care about their kids. They do everything to provide the very best they can."

Many families with low income face life on the verge of living on the streets, and it all stems back to a severe shortage of affordable housing.

ABC10 spoke with Veronica Beaty, policy director with the Sacramento Housing Alliance.

She said rising rents is directly tied to a growing number of people experiencing homelessness.

An oft-quoted statistic is from a study in the Dec. 2012 Journal of Urban Affairs.

After looking at homeless populations in hundreds of cities across the country, researchers found "for every $100 average rent goes up in metropolitan areas, there's a 15 percent increase in homelessness," Beaty said.

The Sacramento area is certainly seeing that. Rents have increased, on average, 18 percent in the last decade here, Beaty said.

RELATED: Homelessness in Sacramento County: Results from the 2017 Point-in-Time Count (biennial count/estimate of people living on the streets and in shelters)

It's a statistic to some people. It's lived reality for others.

"Every time I ask people to rent to me, they'll tell me, 'Oh, your family is too big.' I can't afford a four-bedroom because my income will make probably enough for a two-bedroom," Sibley explained. "If I tell them that I have a family of nine, they tell me, 'There's too many people in the household,' unless I find a private owner that's willing to rent to us."

Matthaja's thoughts about housing are different.

"I'd like to see a house that's painted a pretty color, with a lot of grass and flowers and bunk beds!" she exclaimed, adding she'd also like a puppy.

Kids are kids wherever they may live, but ones experiencing homelessness have added challenges.

"It's especially heartbreaking when it comes to K-12 students, right?" Beaty said. "Your housing instability is really affecting your whole future at that point."

It's a future and a present that, as kids, Matthaja and her six siblings have little power to control.

Barbeau said San Juan USD is still looking for people to adopt a family in need for the holidays. That includes donating gifts and necessities for the kids. People interested in that can reach out to Melanie Barbeau or other San Juan USD McKinney-Vento liaisons, whose contact information can be found HERE.