The April 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Murder of Mary Katherine King

Eyes Wide Open

California Lifts Food Stamp Ban

The Ordeal of Ramona Choyce

Republicans Shred Disabled Housing

Art and Activism of Jos Sances

The Paintings of Jos Sances

Gambling with Social Security

Billionaires Grow Richer, Poverty Worsens

Existence Itself Is Banned for the Homeless Poor

Bush Policy Errs on Chronic Homelessness

Sankofa House: A Rainbow for Homeless Women

Student Summit Against Hunger

A Lifetime at the Bus Stop

Working for Transit Justice

Poor Leonard's Almanack

BOSS Community Organizing

The Anguish of Classism





May 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

A Lifetime at the Bus Stop

by Janny Castillo

Kim, a working mother in Oakland, spends hours every day taking her children to school on AC Transit, then takes BART to her job in San Francisco.

Kim has been riding the bus for 28 years. She remembers, as a young girl, riding the bus with her mom when the fare was only 25 cents. She is now a 33-year-old mother of five living in a Section 8 apartment in West Oakland.

Kim is not on welfare; she works full time at Rite Aid in San Francisco. Her older children go to different schools in East Oakland, and her mom provides childcare for the younger children. Her children are ages 15, 13, 12, 7, and 3.

She has been a single mother for 15 years. It is a daily struggle for her. One of the hardest things is the challenge of getting on and off the bus. Few people help her climb onto the bus as she struggles with children, groceries and a stroller.

Her strollers often break down from the weight of baby supplies and bags of groceries. You can often see her walking down the street with her children beside her, all of them carrying bags of food and supplies home.

When she first began working for Rite Aid, she was living on 23rd Street in East Oakland; and she was placed on the swing shift - killer hours. Sleep became a luxury. For a year, she had to be at work at 4:00 a.m. in the morning. This meant getting to the bus stop with the children at 2:00 a.m.

She would catch bus 362 to 5th Avenue and International Blvd. to drop some very sleepy kids off at her mother's house. She left her mom's house at 3:20 a.m. to catch bus 40 to 14th and Broadway, then catch the A bus to San Francisco.

Many times, the bus was late, which caused her to be an hour late for work because the A bus only ran once an hour. She taught her older children how to take the bus to school and then to walk home.

In 2001, Kim moved her family to West Oakland, and transportation became a little easier. She now catches one bus to the West Oakland BART station.

The cost of bus passes and BART tickets takes a big chunk out of her below-poverty-level income. She spends $175 a month getting to and from work. It would be about $30 cheaper to take the bus to San Francisco; but that would mean an extra 15 minute walk, time she does not have.

Four school-age children equal $60 a month in youth bus passes. The free bus pass that AC Transit gave high school and middle school children during the 2002-03 school year made a huge difference for Kim. The extra money went to food and clothing.

One time, when she was taking her five-year-old son to school, a guy getting off the bus knocked down her two-year-old daughter. If she had not been strapped into her stroller, she would have gone flying to the front of the bus.

A truly terrifying incident happened when her older daughter was five. It was 8:30 a.m. in the morning and she got off the bus early before the rest of her family. It was several stops before Kim noticed she was gone. She jumped off the bus with the rest of the children, stopped a stranger in a car and begged him to take her to Highland Hospital, where other bus riders had seen her daughter get off.

While Kim was running through the hospital, the kind stranger was driving up and down the street looking for the little girl. He came back to Kim, telling her he could not find her daughter and that he had to go. Luckily, on his way back down the hill, he saw Kim's daughter crying in the arms of a young boy who was trying to help her. He brought her back to Kim who was overwhelmed with gratitude.

In 2003, AC Transit cut bus line 315 in West Oakland. Kim had to walk six blocks to San Pablo Avenue to catch the 72 downtown, but single mothers adapt.

Kim could tell you how many minutes it takes to get her kids to the bus stop. She has memorized store hours and knows which bus to take to Smart & Final downtown and then which bus to take to Pak 'n Save in Emeryville. She knows how to get around really well but she remains extremely transit-dependent.

She was very upset last year when Gov. Schwarzenegger wanted to cut AC Transit's budget. To compensate, AC Transit was proposing cutting out bus passes and transfers and reducing all fares to $1. She called the governor's assistant and told her how much of a financial burden it would be if bus passes were taken away.

"You have a good job," she told the assistant. "You have a car, you don't understand my situation. I have five kids and I am not on welfare. There are a lot of people out here trying to make it. He calls himself the Terminator. I think he is trying to terminate California!"

Kim had done the math at a dollar a ride with no transfers: To get all six of her kids to her mother's house and her to work would cost $10; and getting the older kids back and forth to school would cost $6. Picking up the younger kids and getting back home would be another $6. That totals $22 a day and does not include lunch money.

A car would make a real difference in her life. One time Kim saved up to buy one. She bought a used car for cheap from a guy who cleaned the engine and poured heavyweight oil in it to disguise a serious problem. It broke down in four months, and she was back on the bus.

Kim's story is not unique. There are thousands of single low-income mothers struggling under the rising costs of transportation, trying to get their kids to school and themselves to work. Kim also struggles to get her son to basketball games, her daughter to soccer practice, her children to doctor's appointments, and emergencies that send her rushing to Children's Hospital when the children are ill.

Who is responsible for making sure that her voice and the voices of other moms are heard? Who makes sure that when the budgets are made and money is disbursed that they take into account our community's single working parents? MTC, AC Transit, Gov. Schwarzenegger, us? Answer: All of the above!

1515 Webster St,#303
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