Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS — Homelessness is on the rise across the country, with the number of homeless kids up by 33 percent over the last three years.
Those statistics are part of a study released by the National Center on Family Homelessness, which also ranks Louisiana as the third worst state when it comes to homeless kids.
“Four of them share this room and I would love to get them some bunkbeds and things like that for their room,” said Haley, giving a tour of her unfurnished new home. Right now, air mattresses serve as beds.
Four days ago, life was very different for this family. They had no roof over their head and no place to call home.
“A lot of my friends they didn’t even know I was homeless. I didn’t want to put that burden on them and I knew I had to stand up for myself,” said Haley.
The entire seven-member family was living in an Isuzu Trooper with their dog, Angel.
“My eldest daughter slept in the front with me and the rest of them slept in the back,” said Haley, describing the close quarters.
Her daughter Willnika remembers what it was like sleeping next to her brothers and sisters in the cramped SUV for almost two months.
“It was hot, and I was thirsty and hungry,” said Willnika.
Her mother said she left an abusive relationship in Dallas and moved back home to New Orleans.
However, Haley said she was greeted by skyrocketing rental prices, one of the after effects of Hurricane Katrina. Unable to pay $1000 a month in rent, Haley said she was forced to move her family onto the street.
“I told them, we’re sleeping in the car. We’re homeless, and we’ve gotta keep faith in God,” said Haley.
“We’re finding everyone from various walks of life who are now experiencing homelessness,” said Katy Quigley with UNITY of Greater New Orleans.
The agency says the Haley family is just a small piece of a bigger homelessness puzzle that unfortunately includes kids.
“It’s so sad to get calls from social workers every day talking about families who are in their schools, who don’t have a place to sleep that night or are getting evicted,” said Quigley.
“Now I feel better. We’ve got stuff to eat, and we got water and juice,” said Willnika about moving into a house.
As for Haley and her young kids, turning to UNITY for help now means this mom can breathe a sigh of relief just in time for the holidays.
“Its a blessing because its like really my first happy Christmas. My children don’t have toys or anything but I thank God for being in a home,” added Haley who has plans to start nursing school in January.
The National Center On Family Homelessness estimates that 1 in every 45 American kids are homeless.
UNITY of Greater New Orleans says there were 3,000 homeless kids in the metro area in 2010.
“People think because you dress a certain way or act a certain way, you don’t be homeless, but truly you be homeless,” said Natasia Haley, who spent Tuesday night reading with her kids after they arrived home from school.