Homeless students often go unrecognized, and even if they come forward, officials at California's 10,000 schools are often ill-equipped or untrained to provide help.
The new report, authored in partnership between the American Civil Liberties Union and the California Homeless Youth Project, draws on a survey of more than 500 public schools across the state. The authors focus their report on the shortcomings acknowledged by the liaisons assigned at schools to track homeless students.
Among the problems, the report points out that the designated liaisons frequently fail to make themselves available to students, often neglecting to identify themselves as a resource or provide any contact information. Even when homeless students are entered into the system, liaisons often don't have the resources to provide much help. Two-thirds of liaisons say they spend less than five hours a week assisting homeless students.
Under federal law, school districts are supposed to use a broad definition of homelessness, counting students who are couch-surfing, doubling up in someone else's home or living in vehicles. These identified students are eligible for various support services, including food and transportation.
More than anything else, these students need stable housing in order to thrive in school, the report noted. School liaisons reported this as among their greatest challenges, in part because they lacked familiarity with outside social services that could provide housing. But even if students could be funneled into supportive programs, many areas simply lack affordable housing options.
On the positive side, the report notes that most schools assign liaisons at each individual school, rather than appointing one person for the entire district.
This new report dovetails with a recent push by state legislators to audit whether school districts are underreporting student homelessness. About one out of every four school districts in California claim they have no homeless students. Between Mountain View, Palo Alto and Los Altos, 17 public schools report having no homeless students.
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