Dewan: Addressing youth homelessness in Santa Clara County schools
This holiday season, there will be nearly 900 homeless students and families in the East Side Union High School District, compared with 300 in 2020. Photo courtesy of ESUHSD.

Children’s education and wellness are directly impacted by their access to basic needs, including having a stable home. As the colder months are upon us, it is important to draw attention to the unique needs of our unhoused youth.

November was National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. On Oct. 18, the Santa Clara County Board of Education and the County Superintendent of Schools adopted a resolution recognizing November as National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. Every year, hundreds of thousands of American families become homeless, including more than 4.2 million children, 700,000 of which are unaccompanied minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Santa Clara County for the 2022-23 school year, there were 4,452 students experiencing homelessness as of the educational Census Day conducted by all public schools in the state. This count found that one in every 50 students across TK-12 is experiencing housing instability in California, compared to one in 30 within Santa Clara County. In January, the United Way of the National Capital Area identified San Jose as having the highest population of Gen-Z youth experiencing homelessness.

Homelessness is a significant social determinant of health, profoundly affecting a persons’ physical, mental and emotional well-being.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is a federal law that provides protections for students experiencing homelessness. According to the act, homelessness is defined as being unsheltered, living in shelters, living in hotels and motels or being “doubled up” with another family in a living arrangement that does not provide fixed or adequate housing.

In California, students experiencing homelessness have specific rights and protections, and access to resources designed to care for them and keep their education on track until they are able to establish permanent housing. Schools provide wellness supports and partner with community based organizations and agencies to address food insecurity and other basic needs, including financial and legal support.

In this season of giving, there are many ways to support local unhoused families. The Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment in San Jose offers a scholarship fund for homeless youth. In North County, Sunnyvale Community Services offers a few methods to contribute and in South County, Rebekah Children’s Services accepts donations. The Boys & Girls Club will be hosting  a dinner and auction on Feb. 3, 2024 at the Saticoy Club. Donations can also be made to Second Harvest of Silicon Valley.

A student experiencing homelessness, or their caretaker, can contact their school district liaison to ensure they are accessing proper educational support. Please visit the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Foster & Homeless Youth Services page to obtain more information about students’ rights, available resources and how to contact a district liaison. For rental assistance, families may access The Santa Clara County Housing Authority resource. Additionally, a “Here for You” line for temporary housing support is accessible at (408) 385-2400.

San José Spotlight columnist Mary Ann Dewan is the superintendent of schools for Santa Clara County. She has more than 33 years of experience in the field of education. Her columns appear every third Monday of the month.

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