He attends elite UC Berkeley but lives in a trailer with no heat or sewer hookups. Soon, he'll be scrambling to find new shelter
Ismael Chamu wakes up at sunrise, shivering in the drizzly morning’s chill. He rises from the floor of a small trailer, where he sleeps wedged next to his younger brother and an arm’s length from his two sisters, who share the only bed.
As he cooks breakfast, the smell of scrambled eggs and ripe sewage combine. There is no sewer hookup so when the storage tank is full, as it is this day, everyone holds on until they can get to a nearby gas station.
“Hurry up so you guys can eat,” Ismael, 21, tells his sisters Jocelyn, 14, and Yazmin, 17.
At 7:40 a.m., he shepherds his sisters to high school, a 30-minute walk through gang territory in Hayward, just south of Oakland. At the school gate, he hugs them goodbye.
Then he heads to his classes at UC Berkeley, the nation’s most elite public research university.
Ismael looks the part of a typical college student, with his backpack, black jeans and stylish fade haircut. But he bears extraordinary burdens.
He’s one of tens of thousands of California college students afflicted by the state’s affordable housing crunch.
Ismael constantly scrambles to find shelter and enough food for himself and his siblings while working a campus job, leading a student club and trying to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
In the last 18 months, he has slept on couches and floors, in trailers and attics. Since November, he and his 20-year-old brother Edward have rented the 20-foot-by-8-foot mobile home, parked in a Hayward driveway. His sisters joined them in January after their parents fell on hard times in the Central Valley and were forced to live in their car.
But Hayward has outlawed living in residential trailers. The family is due to be evicted Tuesday. And so the scramble will begin again.
“You do what you gotta do,” Ismael says gamely.