PTA’s “every child, one voice” includes speaking out for California’s nearly 200,000 homeless children and youth.
FACTS ABOUT HOMELESS CHILDREN AND YOUTH
According to California Department of Education data, the number of homeless students in California jumped from 167,910 in 2014 to 202,329 in 2016, an increase of over 20 percent in just two years. Many believe the numbers to be underreported due to embarrassment and shame which may discourage students and their families from accurately reporting their homelessness. School districts have an incentive to count the number of homeless students because they receive additional funding under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) for these students.
The federal McKinney-Vinto Act defines homeless children as those who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and includes children and youths who:
- Share the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason
- Are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds
- Are living in emergency or transitional shelters
- Have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings
- Are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings.
Homeless children face many challenges and need access to social services and academic help. They tend to move and change schools frequently; face problems such as lack of sleep, food insecurity, stress; access to hygiene facilities; transportation obstacles, and difficulty obtaining school clothes and supplies; coupled with an inability to study in cramped or changing living environments – all of which are linked to low school attendance rates. Homeless children may also experience stigmatization, insensitivity and rejection by classmates and teachers.
School residency requirements can be a significant barrier to homeless students who may face delays in enrollment because of a lack of address. A lack of other documentation such as birth certificates, academic records, and immunization records can further hinder enrollment efforts of homeless students.
Federal and state laws require schools to provide services to homeless students but because many of them are not identified, they go without services and the extra help they need. The frequent mobility of homeless families may make it more difficult to provide meaningful services, particularly if records have been lost in the shuffle or are slow in following students between school placements.
HOW TO HELP
Schools, communities, and local PTAs can play a role in helping to lessen the stress for homeless children and families who may not only be without a home, but may be outside their support system of friends, community and schools. Start by speaking to the Homeless Liaison in your school district to find out how you can help and support homeless students and families. Watch the video to see how one community is helping homeless children.
legislation activities and PTA
In 2015, California State PTA was a co-sponsor of SB 636 (Liu) which hoped to establish the Homeless Youth Basic Materials Needs Assistance Act which would leverage state and federal funds with matching resources from existing non-profits to ensure that all children and youth identified as homeless in public schools had their basic material needs met so they could attend school on a more equal playing field with their peers. The bill defined basic materials as school supplies, dental supplies, socks and shoes and hygienic products. The bill died in Senate appropriations.
In 2016, California State PTA supported AB 1789 (Santiago) which extended the sunset date for the School Supplies for Homeless Children Fund until January 1, 2022. The extension allows taxpayers to continue to designate voluntarily contributions to the fund on their personal income tax returns. The Governor signed the bill into law.
RECENT WILDFIRES LEAVE CALIFORNIA FAMILIES HOMELESS
The recent wildfires in California help underscore the fact that homelessness can impact families from all backgrounds not just families with a particular set of traits such as background, education level or economic status.
Families who are impacted by the recent wildfires should contact their school district’s homeless liaison for information about the educational rights of their children as well as help connecting to community resources.
- EdSource Special Report: California’s Homeless Students: Undercounted, Underfunded and Growing
- Cal Matters – article on the housing costs in CA driving its high poverty ranking
- NPR ED – How to serve Students and how to identify them
- Kids DATA/org – Summary and Survey of articles. Statistics on each county in CA
- National Center for Homeless Education
- National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth
- An article from Educational Leadership titled “Meeting the Educational Needs of Homeless Children”
- CDE Resource website on homeless education including a list of Homeless Liaisons in each school district
- Legislative Analyst’s Office report, “State Efforts to Address Youth Homelessness”