KCBS Cover Story Series: Our Homeless Schoolkids
A five-part series, running through Friday, December 19. Airing on KCBS 740/106.9 at 6:30am, 8:30am, 12:30pm, 4:30pm and 9:30pm.
SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — More than 20,000 Bay Area schoolchildren are homeless and in California that rate is twice the national average.
So what are school districts and local governments doing to address the crisis?
Bay Area School Districts And Local Governments Tackle Increasing Number Of Homeless Kids
Every fifth child in this San Francisco schoolyard starts the day not in a warm and cozy home, but instead on a friend's couch, or in the backseat of a car or—like 10-year-old Rachel (not her real name)—a family shelter, where getting ready for school in the morning is anything but routine.
"We have to take a shower—it's like this place where you have to take a shower. We have to go there at 7:00 and my school starts at 7:45. It's just not right kids have to live like that," Rachel said.
Ben Kauffman, a social worker with the San Francisco Unified School District, said that school districts reach out with clothing, money for field trips and school supplies, extra tutoring--and in the best cases—help finding someplace to live.
"If we know who they are, they're not lost. There are caring adults in school that can work with them to be able to support them in getting longer-term housing," Kauffman said.
And there are success stories.
Jessica was living in her van in Oakland with her three young kids—not exactly an environment conducive to play dates, or parental involvement:
"We couldn't have friends over. I wasn't as engaged in their school, with their teachers or the whole school in general," she said.
Then they found transitional housing—an apartment at Compass Clara House. Now, Jessica said, her kids are thriving, and so is she.
"I would never see myself on the PTA that's for sure but here I am," she said.
But there are an increasing amount of families behind her waiting a longer time. Compass Connecting Point program director Elizabeth Ancker said that eight years ago, it took two months to clear her shelter waiting list of 70 families. Now there are over 200 families waiting seven to 12 months each.
"We need more affordable housing. We have nowhere to put them; we're farming families off to counties far, far away because there is affordable housing there and maybe they can make it, but it's an incredibly isolating experience for them to leave their support network," Ancker said.
Meanwhile, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said that Google just gave a million dollars to help the Hamilton Family Center, house homeless schoolchildren.
"This is innovative. It's the first time a partnership has begun between a homeless service provider and our school district," he said.
Rachel, the homeless fifth grader, said that's great but she can't help but be struck by the richness of the Bay Area that she sees on her daily bus ride home to a Haight-Ashbury shelter.
"All the people who have a job should raise money for the homeless kids and their moms have a better home because I think that's the right thing," she said.
HOW TO HELP:
Clara House – Compass Family Services
Hamilton Family Center
San Francisco Unified School District –Homeless Children fund for field trips, prom dresses, other expenses.
Contact Jan Walker 415-241-3030 x13338
California Homeless Youth Project
for more features.