Cynthia Ruiz recalled calmly how she had to steal formula from a market to feed her youngest son after she was forced to live on the streets with her two children when her boyfriend lost his job.
Ruiz, 20, and her sons, Richard Adams, 1, and Anthony Ruiz, 3, have been in and out of motels and shelters since they spent a week last year wandering the streets searching for their next meal.
"I would push them around in a stroller at night, wondering what was going to happen to us," Ruiz said.
Ruiz and her children, who now live in Glendale in transitional housing provided by the Salvation Army, are among a growing number of young families who wind up on the streets when they are unable to find work or can't afford to rent an apartment.
Due to a faltering economy and fewer jobs, young families are the fastest growing portion of the homeless population, said Paul Bandy, director of social services at the Glendale Salvation Army.
According to a report by the Glendale Task Force on Homelessness, up to 360 people, a majority of them with young families, spend their nights on city streets.
The number of homeless people in Glendale, including the elderly, veterans, singles, the mentally ill and substance abusers, has doubled since 1986, stretching social service organizations to the limit.
Activists fear many more are at risk of becoming homeless--the report estimates at least 10,000 people face this threat--and will end up on the streets for lack of community help.
"Many of the people I see are just a paycheck away from becoming homeless," said Maria Melchor, case manager at Catholic Charities' Loaves & Fishes.
Ron Atkins, a single father trying to raise five children, has faced the threat of homelessness since he moved from Long Beach to Glendale last fall.
Atkins receives a $930 welfare check each month, but must pay $926 in rent for the one-bedroom room that he and his children share at the Manhattan Hotel.
Atkins, who was forced to quit his job with Starline Tours to take care of his children after his wife left, said he can't find an apartment because managers aren't willing to rent to a family with five children.
"I don't want my kids to be in and out of shelters--I want to have a steady place so I can keep them in school," Atkins said.
City Manager David Ramsay formed the 31-member homelessness task force last year to bring the community together to help the homeless. The group is scheduled to present its final report to the City Council this month.
"We wanted a better understanding of the problem--the homeless are not simply a monolithic group for which one answer fits all," Ramsay said.
The task force has made some preliminary recommendations to the council, including building a transitional shelter, implementing a Business Watch program and an anti-panhandling campaign, and preparing a homeless resource guide.