Student homelessness grows in San Jose school district
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.

The number of homeless high school students and families in one East San Jose school district has increased threefold in just three years. 

The East Side Union High School District has approximately 900 unhoused students, compared to 300 in 2020. Officials said the number continues to climb and cite inflation, cost of living increases and the rollback of COVID-19 pandemic renter protections as the key culprits. The number of homeless students in the district is projected reach about 1,000 by the end of the year, district spokesperson Sergio Diaz Luna said.

Peter Allen, communications coordinator with the East Side Education Foundation, said the number of homeless students is spiking because the definition of homeless has expanded to include not only students living on the street, but in vehicles, having three families sharing a two-bedroom apartment or couch surfing. He said more students are willing to self-identify and the school district has gotten better at identifying students in need.

“They don’t have a consistent place to live every night,” he told San José Spotlight. “That causes trauma and doesn’t make their education any easier.”

The school district and foundation are working together to support the rising needs of students. 

The foundation serves as the fiscal agent for the East Side Union High School District’s McKinney-Vento Program, which provides direct support and services to students experiencing homelessness to ensure their academic, behavioral and social-emotional needs are met. The program provides warm clothes and gift cards to unhoused students during the holiday season.

The program previously raised $30,000 and was able to provide $100 each to 300 students, Diaz Luna said. With 900 students, it would require $90,000. Monetary contributions go to students in the form of gift cards, he said, so they can buy clothing, school supplies or a nice holiday meal. Diaz Luna said the school district has ramped up services to students through a partnership with the Santa Clara County Office of Behavioral Health and nonprofit community specialists. Students are also connected on-site with social workers and counselors.

East Side Union High School District Superintendent Glenn Vander Zee said how the state funds schools puts his students at a disadvantage compared to other school districts in Santa Clara County. The state formula is based on property taxes and average daily attendance per district, which gives affluent communities with higher property taxes an advantage.

“We also know the economic polarity in our area creates hardships for our students,” Vander Zee told San José Spotlight. “Students are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.”

East Side Union High School District has about 21,000 students, not including charter schools. At the end of the academic year in June, the district identified 1,232 students as unhoused, Vander Zee said. While that has since dropped to 900, Vander Zee expects it to grow.

“This (program) is an opportunity for us to give these students a bit of a boost at this time of year,” Vander Zee said, “although we understand it doesn’t fundamentally address the underlying issues.”

The district is holding a holiday event for its homeless students during the Dec. 11 weekend to provide them with resources, Diaz Luna said.

“It’s to provide as much direct support as we can to students this holiday season, just to let them know we value and support them,” Diaz Luna said. “I grew up poor, so we didn’t always have money for gifts during the holidays, and I can only imagine what it means for a student to receive a gift today. Hopefully, we can provide a gift for each one.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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