The Story of a Family in Hollywood

One family’s desperate act to escape overcrowded housing in L.A.

“There were so many kids there I don’t even think there [were] five,” says a girl who asked her last name not be used. She was 8 when she and her parents got a place not much larger than a closet in the back of a house, with a narrow, steep staircase of concrete, a narrow, steep window over the kitchen, and an older woman who did not speak Spanish.

The girl was told she could use the bathroom only when she was away from the bathroom. “It was, like, a total mess,” she says. “It was just so dirty. I remember it had a toilet in it without a bowl.”

At that point, she says, she was a happy child. She was one of five kids — three sisters and a brother — and she and her family would get to spend the weekends in the house with her father. “We’d eat, go to Disney movies, and then we’d come home,” she says.

Then, suddenly, her life changed. Her parents left the family. They took their house with everything in it, and the family moved to an apartment together. The mother worked at a day care center, and the father was always on call to deal with work.

The family was still living in that apartment when they discovered that they were no longer allowed to be in the house where they had lived for five years.

The owner of the empty house, a real-estate agent who lived off the grid, told them to leave. There was space available, he said, but the family was not good enough for the house. Once the kids were removed, he said, the family would be able to move in.

It is the kind of scene that is the stuff of Hollywood melodrama: The family flees from a house that their children have occupied only briefly. The mother takes the children with her to escape the owner of the house — who threatens to kill the children if they don’t leave. The father gets together with other working families to help pay for the rent, which they pay by handing out free food and clothing in the park nearby. The family, reunited, then packs up what they have and takes a boat to

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