The faded, creased photograph shows a 13-year-old Vallie Brown smiling shyly as she pulls back her hair in the back of a large van. She is wearing a white one-piece swimsuit and at first glance, she looks like she’s coming back from a sun-soaked day at the beach.
Looking at the picture of Brown, few people would suspect that the girl in the snapshot was living out of that van with her mother. That each night after it grew dark, she curled up on the backseats to sleep. That she wore that swimsuit under her clothes because she had to bathe in gas station bathrooms.
More than four decades later, and long before government data would ultimately confirm her suspicion, her experiences helped Brown to recognize that California’s housing crisis had taken another complicated turn – that the tenuous existence of her family in her youth had become a reality for far too many in the present.
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