A Face Of Los Angeles’ Homeless  

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Sade Williams and her chalkboard art (Photo by Leah Xinyan Zhang)

For the first time in three months, Sade Williams gets to visit her three young children–her son, Brannon, and two daughters, Alyssa and Roxanne. In anticipation, she shopped at Target for jump ropes, dolls and balloons, hoping her children missed her as much as she missed them.

Williams is an artist who has been homeless for over six years. She’s currently living at the Podshare hostel in Little Tokyo, where she pays $50 a day. It is not a small amount for rent, but she will soon have a steady income to cover the cost. The Bristol Farms supermarket in Rolling Hills Estates took an interest in her artistic talent and offered her a job as a chalkboard artist for $680 per week. Although the round-trip journey from her hostel to the market takes three hours by bus, Williams doesn’t mind because she sees it as a way to better herself and to help give her children better lives.

“It will be worth it,” Williams said. “I am working hard for my children, whatever it takes.”

Getting to this point has been a difficult journey for Williams, who struggled with drug abuse and violent behavior, according to court records she shared. In 2015, her drug use resulted in the court ordering her to be separated from her children for their safety. Williams’ experience is not unique. According to the latest nationwide count, four out of every 10 people who are homeless in the U.S. have a serious drug addiction or are severely mentally ill. In 2016, a total of 5.4 million women used drugs, of whom 26,000 were pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From Williams’ perspective, drug abuse is one of the primary culprits that leads to homelessness.

“You can’t fix homelessness without fixing drug abuse,” Williams said. “Homelessness is the result, and the drug is the reason.”

The Department of Children and Family Services put her children in foster care for 27 months, an experience Williams found agonizing. She asked the social worker for the names of the foster family looking after her children because she wanted to see what kind of people they were. When she saw a picture of her son on Instagram that his foster family posted, she was upset.

“I was so angry,” Williams said. “I replied that ‘Hey, those of my children! What’s this?’ They are my kids, my kids!”

After Williams and her husband, Ronald Barry, divorced last year, he rented an apartment and won full custody of all three of their children. When they got divorced, Barry asked her for alimony, or he wouldn’t let her visit the children. Williams started to pull herself together for her boy and girls.

In addition to caring for her children, Williams cares about the country and national politics. She watched the news on YouTube following up with the Russian probe. And as a mother who has been separated from her children for a long time, Williams said she is deeply sympathetic to the undocumented immigrant families who were forced to separate.

Williams is also angry that President Donald Trump did not order flags to be lowered to half staff after John McCain’s passing, until people criticized him. She believes a man like John McCain, being tortured and imprisoned in the Vietnam War, should be honored and respected.

“Trump is an evil and criminally bad dude. He intends to offend you and brings anger to everyone,” Williams said. “He is still mad and jealous of a man who is dead. He is tender as a child.”

In the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries, Williams voted for Bernie Sanders. She supported Sanders because she perceived him to be a kind, empathic and sensitive person. “I never heard any unkind word from Bernie Sanders,” she said. “However, Trump is mean. He has everything, but he humiliates everyone.”

Among all policies supported by Bernie Sanders, Williams advocated for making college free the most. She believes people make progress when they are educated, and that is the reason why she reads the news every day, to educate herself.

Williams said she spent six years making mistakes and correcting them. Now, her life finally has new hope. She aims to save for an apartment and a car by working at Bristol Farms. Maybe after that, she said, her children will be back with her.

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