She Moved to California for a Full-time Teaching Job. But High Rent, Low Pay Has Left Her ‘Homeless'

“Most nights I’m scared it’s unsafe," Scheznayder said about sleeping in her car. "But I get up in the mornings and still come to work. This is what I love to do.”

NBC Universal, Inc.

Teaching schoolchildren is all 37-year-old Natalie Schexnayder has ever wanted to do. 

But the sixth grade teacher never imagined she’d be working full-time and still unable to make ends meet. 

“It hasn’t been easy at all. I come and try to spruce myself up and keep a smile on my face but on the inside, it’s a struggle,” said Schexnayder. “I’ve been between my car, motel six and an Airbnb, whenever I can afford it.”

She drove from her home state of Mississippi to take a teaching job in Richmond two years ago.

“I had no idea that I would come here, leaving Mississippi, live in a home, and come here to being homeless,” said Schexnayder.

Schexnayder said she hasn't been able to find affordable housing so sometimes she rents an Airbnb or motel room, and every month when the money runs out, she sleeps in her car. 

“I’m thankful for the grocery stores, the gas stations, where I go to kind of wash up and take care of hygiene and come to work,” said Scheznayder. “Most nights I’m scared it’s unsafe. But I get up in the mornings and still come to work. This is what I love to do.”

The President of the Teachers Union said that Schexnayder is not the only teacher living on the edge. 

“Our starting salary here for a teacher is in the mid to late 50s, that is not sufficient to be able to independently live,” said John Zabala.

He said West Contra Costa School District teachers are among the lowest paid in the Bay Area. They’re currently at an impasse with the district as they fight for higher wages. 

“About two weeks ago we had a rally where about 700 people spoke and people were in tears, letting them know how desperate they are to remain working here,” said Zabala. “To just do their jobs which is what they want to do … and instead, they’re spending so much of their time and energy just to fight for survival.”

The district acknowledges teachers are struggling. In a statement they said, “WCCUSD is working rapidly to readjust budget priorities in recognition that many of our educators are currently experiencing economic hardship, which has been worsened by rising inflation and the economic climate of the greater Bay Area.” 

They say they’re offering a 10% raise.

“I don’t regret coming here because I love that I’m chasing my dream. But it makes me sad to know I’m  doing this while most times sleeping in my car,” said Schexnayder. “It's really sad.”

Schexnayder said she wasn’t prepared for the high cost of living in California. She’s met many others who are working, some multiple jobs, who are homeless too. 

“It’s not a personal thing.  I believe it’s a Bay Area, California thing, where there are people that are working jobs getting up going to work and yet still doesn’t have a safe, comfortable place to live,” said Schexnayder. “It makes me really sad.”

She said California’s teachers deserve way more than what they get paid. Though she loves her Richmond students, she may have to move back to Mississippi at the end of the school year, but she’s determined to continue pursuing her passion.  

“I wake up every day, not knowing how it’s going to end. All I do know is that I’m going to teach and that’s what gives me joy. That’s what I live by,” said Schexnayder.

The teachers union has set up GoFundMe to help Schexnayder as they fight for higher wages for all the district’s teachers.

Contact Us