National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week: Experiencing homelessness after my family left Mexico


During National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, CCH will offer a daily essay by people who work with us, writing about what inspires their work.

By Gabriela Munoz, Community Organizing intern

Gabriela Munoz
Gabriela Munoz

I am Mexican born and raised in a small town of Guanajuato, Mexico. I grew up in a humble family. I came to the United States at 13 years old, undocumented, with my mother and my older sister. We arrived in Texas and I started school right away. My father and my older brother were there in Texas waiting for us. One of my older sisters and her family was living there, and she let us stay with her until my parents could save for a deposit on an apartment. 

My father spent most of his time in United States working to support the family. However, the money he made was not enough, and we experienced poverty. We lived in Texas for about nine months and then my parents decided to move to Chicago.

When we moved to Chicago, we had to live with another older sister and her family. She let us stay in her basement for about two years. My sister and I had difficulties when it came to registering in the Chicago Public Schools because we could not prove residency, and school staff did not allow us to register. We were able to register – after two months – when we got all the required documents.

What I learned from my mother is the value of education. My mother only went to the second grade of elementary school. My mother suffered from domestic violence and extreme poverty. She strongly believed that my sister and I could achieve success in life with an education. My sister and I had our difficulties in transportation, and we had to take public transportation and my parents sometimes did not have money for bus cards. Many times we had to walk back home from school, a long distance. At that time neither my parents nor I knew about the right of education, nor about the federal McKinney-Vento Act that supports the educational rights of homeless children.

Years later, when I started college, I was still undecided as to what I wanted to become. A semester before getting my associate degree, I decided to get a bachelor’s in social work. I met CCH organizer Rachel Ramirez and leader Charles Austin when they spoke to my social justice class. Since then, I’ve been interested in knowing more about homelessness.

In one of my projects, I learned about all the help that exists to help homeless children and their families in the Chicago Public Schools. I realized that I could have been helped by the McKinney-Vento Act while in high school. I also realized that I am still “doubled-up” because I must live with extended family because I cannot afford an apartment, and that is also homeless. Even though I have a full-time job, it is still not possible for me to pay for an apartment of my own while being a single mom and full-time student.

I decided to do my internship in community organizing with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless because I wanted to learn about the roots of homelessness and how to end it. Also, I want to learn how help people who are homeless get back on their feet. I am passionate about working as an advocate who can help homeless individuals and families. I support the CCH mission that “housing is a human right.”

Gabriela Munoz will graduate next month with a bachelor’s degree in social work from Chicago’s St. Augustine College. Along with her studies and internship, Gabriela works full-time and lives doubled-up with her two children and extended family in the Brighton Park neighborhood.