By: Allyson Weissman
Alumna Angela Sanchez tackled the obstacles of high school while experiencing homelessness.
After her father was unable to pay rent in 2007, he and Sanchez were evicted from their home when she was only 16. Sanchez said she and her father would find levity in stories of Scruffy the dog, who is based off the stray dog who roamed around their neighborhood, and an egg. While the father and daughter duo lived in a family shelter, Sanchez’s father told her to pretend they were Scruffy and the Egg going on their next adventure, she said.
“All these things became a way to talk about our experience in a way that was a little bit easier for both of us, so if my dad and I needed a story to talk about being homeless, Scruffy and the Egg helped us feel a little bit better about our situation on the day to day,” Sanchez said.
[Related: Student self-publishes children’s book to broaden Asian American representation]
Sanchez said her adversity inspired her to create a children’s book, “Scruffy and the Egg,” which was published in 2017, 10 years after she lost her childhood home. The book focuses on the character origins of Scruffy and the Egg. Scruffy is initially called Fluffy – implying that he lives the perfect life – but unexpected circumstances hit when he is abandoned by his family, leaving him without a home.
While Scruffy lives on the streets, Sanchez said he faces many of the same problems she did, such as figuring out transportation and locating food. Sanchez’s relationship with her father is represented through Scruffy’s parental instincts regarding the Egg, with Scruffy representing her father and herself as the Egg, she said.
“It became very important to me then to have some kind of literature out there that talked about homelessness and described the challenges of the situation, but in such a way that was accessible to both parents and children,” Sanchez said.
The second book, “Scruffy and the Egg: Adventures on the Road,” was published in 2019 and hones in on more details that correlate with Sanchez’s life, such as finding school transportation. From the community kitchen to school, Sanchez said she highlights the daily challenges she and her father faced. However, there are some differences between Sanchez and the Egg.
“As a teenager, I actually never called any of the adults or faculty at my school, so pretty much my whole junior year I didn’t talk to anyone about it, because I wanted to keep it private because of the stigma that exists around being homeless,” Sanchez said.
One of the stories involves the Egg confiding in a teacher about its situation. The Egg is embraced with empathy and support from the teacher – but Sanchez herself was not vocal about her living situation at the time. However, Sanchez said she regrets not discussing her situation with more people, as she might have been exposed to more resources.
Although Sanchez did not tell many people about her homelessness, one life-changing factor was School on Wheels, an organization that provides tutoring for students experiencing homelessness. Sanchez has gone from receiving tutoring during her senior year to currently serving as a board member, said Charles Evans, executive director of the organization.
[Related: UCLA Extension storyteller draws on fairy tales, vocal performance to comfort kids]
Sanchez’s tutor’s kindness and mentorship are embodied in the volunteer that Scruffy and the Egg come across at the community kitchen through welcoming them into the kitchen and providing meals for them, Sanchez said. To further its impact, School on Wheels utilizes Sanchez’s books in order to spark conversations about homelessness among its volunteers and children, Evans said.
“A lot of our students don’t have books that represent their experiences, and ‘Scruffy and the Egg’ allows children to be able to open up and have really good dialogue about some of their emotions and some of their experiences being homeless,” Evans said.
In order to donate her books to organizations such as School on Wheels, Sanchez self-published the books, she said. Although Sanchez self-published the books, Charles Allen from Sagest, a book production company, assisted Sanchez in the printing and layout of the books.
Allen said Sanchez tells her story in a clever way that can be understood by young children. Although “Scruffy and the Egg” handles sensitive topics, Allen said he wanted to utilize bright colors with the books to attract young eyes. Through providing a list of discussion questions at the end of the book, he saidchildren and families can begin conversations about homelessness.
“For kids who are going through homelessness, I hope that they understand that their experiences are valid, and to those who are housed, I hope that this book builds empathy and that it’s not a point that you should tease or shame anyone else about,” Sanchez said.
With “Scruffy and the Egg,” Sanchez said she wants to provide a story which children who are homeless can relate to – as one in every four people who are homeless are children – as well as end the stigma associated with homelessness.
“Having this kind of understanding of what the population looks like and understanding that there are a bunch of nuances to everyone who’s experiencing homelessness is really important,” Sanchez said.