Increasing numbers of homeless LAUSD students face challenges

first_imgZella Knight and her 15-year-old daughter were evicted from their Sun Valley apartment last year as the condo-conversion craze swept the San Fernando Valley. Anastassia helped her mother hunt long and hard for an affordable place to live, and they finally settled in an L.A. Family Housing shelter in North Hollywood. The situation is far from ideal, however, and their struggles continue: Zella to find support services and Anastassia to find a quiet place to study so she can maintain her high grades. “It’s been taxing on my daughter. She has the world on her shoulders and yet is striving to obtain academic excellence,” said Knight, 44. “So it’s probably going to be more of a money problem for the community than it will be for us. But we are definitely going to collaborate with the community in identifying them and getting them services for those children.” But district officials say the shortage of affordable housing in the Valley and the tough economy will likely result in more families doubling up, moving into garages and living in cars. They also note that Los Angeles County officials – and others – need to significantly expand services and funding for the growing number of homeless. Earlier this year, Hope Gardens opened in the Northeast Valley as one of only a handful of long-term shelters for growing numbers of homeless women and children in the Valley. “I expect the numbers to go higher and higher,” said Melissa Schoonmaker, pupil services and attendance coordinator for LAUSD’s homeless education and teen parent programs. She said she believes there already are many more than the known 13,521. “The numbers are probably higher, first because of our data collection in itself being a difficult system, and we’re trying to make it clean-cut. We still think these numbers are low.” Knight notes that many parents and students don’t want to report being homeless because of the stigma. “This is an epidemic that has been longstanding for many years, and it’s going to continue. Let’s face it, we can’t talk about prevention; we can talk about assisting folks and providing tools so it doesn’t get to a critical level,” she said. “I firmly believe we’re going to have to utilize … more resources and more stringent partnerships with the city, county, state and federal governments.” According to a 2005 report, there are about 88,300 homeless in the county. A new report by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is expected to be released soon. But Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, said services remain a problem. “There are not enough services and housing for homeless people in Los Angeles – city and county,” she said. And as demand grows, the LAUSD homeless services department remains wary of any potential budget cuts during difficult fiscal times. The district’s four homeless-education counselors drive around their portions of the farflung district, taking bus tokens to children to try to get them to come to school. And they hand out everything from backpacks and emergency clothing to retail vouchers. Still, the battle is an uphill one with homeless students facing unique academic, social and health problems. Homeless students often fall behind academically because they relocate often. They tend to have unstable living environments that can cause behavioral issues at school. They also face many health issues from residing in inadequate housing. “We need to address the whole child, the whole situation, because being homeless and the needs of that child are so complex and complicated. It’s not just let’s get them to school,” said Angela Chandler, LAUSD homeless-education counselor for the Valley. Chandler is the only counselor and advocate for about 3,300 students identified as homeless in the Valley. She said the homeless students she sees require intense case management that’s “almost impossible for one person to provide.” A typical day for Chandler included dropping off tokens for a student at Sylmar Elementary and returning to the Reseda office to take referrals or requests from schools. She’s then off to the Motel 6 at Roscoe and Sepulveda to get a mother – who doesn’t have a car – to sign and complete a questionnaire that identifies her as homeless so she can qualify for services. Chandler gives the parent clothing vouchers, then goes to Sepulveda and Magnolia to meet a parent at work. “It’s so much to do and so little manpower; it becomes overwhelming,” Chandler said. What would help, she said, is if all school staff were trained to identify and provide services to homeless students. “We’re already in a budget crunch. The idea of them actually taking on more people for this cause, to do what I do, it’s probably not going to happen right now,” she said. School board member Tamar Galatzan, who represents part of the Valley, said the lack of adequate services citywide makes it a challenge. The district must work with all community partners to get services for students, she said, and partnerships with local organizations have helped by providing clothing, eye exams and some other necessities. “The lack of services definitely is a crisis, but also the teachers and staff might need school-based services to help those kids, and many schools don’t have the budget to pay for social workers and nurses,” Galatzan said. “There are a lot of wonderful organizations out there providing services to needy kids, and we have to be very aggressive in finding them.” For her part, Knight said she has found temporary housing for 24 months, is getting a heart condition under control and wants to get a job and her own place. Currently a parent volunteer for LAUSD, Knight wants a job as a parent resource liaison. “The best experience this gave me is walking in somebody else’s shoes. It gave me an opportunity to advocate for the homeless, but particularly for the homeless parent and student,” she said. “I know the experience that they go through. I’ve experienced the stigmas that are labeled with homelessness, and it’s my desire to be the voice to let everyone know the importance of homeless parents and students and what they have endured.” naush.boghossian@dailynews.com (818) 713-3722160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! And their plight is playing out across Los Angeles Unified School District, where the number of homeless students has soared more than 35 percent in just one year to 13,521. Even as enrollment declines in the 708,000-student district, figures show the number of homeless students in the San Fernando Valley has risen 24 percent to more than 3,000. The escalating numbers are straining the nation’s second-largest district, which has just four homeless-education counselors – including just one to cover the Valley’s sprawling expanse. To help deal with the problem, Superintendent David Brewer has vowed to form more partnerships with community groups and boost training to make sure school officials know how to refer students to appropriate services. “It’s more of a staff development issue for us. We don’t necessarily need more money, but clearly the community needs to provide more resources,” Brewer said. last_img read more

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