For the principal with the most homeless students in L.A., the reality of poverty is personal

By Steve Lopez for The LA Times

I didn’t know anything about Jose Razo’s back story when I first reached out to him. I was simply checking in with the principal who leads the L.A. Unified campus that has more students classified as homeless than any other.

“For me, it’s personal,” the 43-year-old Razo told me one morning in a tight office with no room for one more box, folder, motivational poster or paper clip. “I do see myself in the faces of the students who walk through these hallways.”

That’s because years ago, he lived as so many of them do today.

Razo, who attended nearby Haddon Avenue Elementary and other local schools as a kid, said his father was not around much. His mother, as he described it, managed the trick of carrying herself as if she was persevering rather than struggling. For a time, Razo had no idea they were poor.

Not until they moved into a garage.

“My mother did anything she could,” Razo said. “She did massage. She would make and sell donuts, tamales, corn. My coming to Jesus moment was when we lived in that garage and I had to go to the bathroom. We didn’t have one in the garage, so we had to go to the owner’s house and knock on the door.”

The garage had no running water. Mrs. Maria Maximina Razo and her five children had access to an outdoor sink. Maria Razo, Jose’s older sister, recalls a standing house rule: Do not knock on the owner’s door after 8 p.m. If you had to go to the bathroom, you had to hold it until the morning.

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