Homeless middle school student opens up about his life, struggles

Children without permanent homes often have problems with school

SAN ANTONIO – Fifty percent of the homeless population in San Antonio are children. It's a big number, but it doesn't explain how it feels to be a homeless child. One brave young man opened up about it, explaining what the hardest parts are and what he wants his community to know.

Jacob Ortega, 13, knows homelessness doesn't discriminate. 

"A lot of different kind of people are homeless. There's not one type of people," he said.

He, his mom and his three younger siblings have been in and out of shelters. 

"Didn't really like it at first," he said.

However, it's now something Ortega has grown to appreciate. He's met a lot of other youngsters he can relate to. 

"You're not by yourself and you have people you could talk to," he explained. 

Children without permanent homes go through a lot and have a lot to talk about.

"Just not knowing what's going to happen, or if something's going to happen, that is bad," Ortega said.

"Homeless children typically are hungry. They don't have as much food. Also, homeless children get sicker than normal children, so it's a tough time.," said Navarra Williams, SAMMinistries CEO and president. 

SAMMinistries focuses on helping homeless families. Williams said for those families school can't always be the priority. SAMMinistries reports the graduation rate for homeless teens is less than 30 percent.

Ortega admitted school can get tough, but he said it's been much easier since his family moved to the SAMMinistries Transitional Living and Learning Center. 

"Here, if you're failing a class, they'll give you tutoring that you need," he said. 

The organization threw him and 200 other kids a back-to-school shopping spree Wednesday. 

"Some pants, shirts, some stuff that I could use for the school year," Ortega said. 

When he starts the seventh grade, he'll have everything the other children have. 

"It's very good that people would help people that are in need, and I'm glad that people would donate stuff for us," Ortega said.

He remains thankful for the little things and hopes people can see he's trying to live the most normal life possible within his circumstances. 

"People are all the same, just sometimes need some help," Ortega said with a smile. 

Up to 40 families at a time can live at the SAMMinistries Transitional Living and Learning Center, adding up to more than 100 people in the program at once. These families can stay up to two years in the program. About 90 percent of the families that start the program finish it and go on to find permanent housing.

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