H-CENTRAL COAST

Dec 8, 2010 9:54 PM by Ariel Wesler

Local school districts see growing number of homeless students

The Central Coast is seeing a record number of homeless kids in local school districts and some educators say it's affecting their ability to teach.

So far this year, Santa Barbara County has identified more than 45-hundred homeless students. That number has more than doubled from just two years ago. Federal law defines homeless children as those who don't have a fixed, regular or adequate nighttime residence.

Of the 4500 homeless kids in Santa Barbara County, more than 3500 are part of the Santa Maria Bonita School District--the most in the county.

"If you don't have a place to sit, it's pretty hard to do homework. If you don't have a quiet place to concentrate, it's pretty hard to do homework," said Ben Romo with the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

It has a partnership program with the Good Samaritan Homeless shelter. It gives around 35 homeless kids a place to go after school.

"It's hard for me because I'm not good at reading and writing myself, so it's hard for me to help her do her homework," said Tara Corral, a homeless parent.

While the kids are sharpening their skills, their parents are trying to secure a better future.

"For those couple hours, I'm out there looking for a job and helping myself to get back on my feet," Corral said.

Educators say the need continues to grow.

"Schools and school districts are more and more being asked to do a job that they were not intended to do, that is to be social workers, to address the very complex social issues that kids are presenting everyday in the classroom," Romo said.

The county says its after school programs can provide more specialized attention than school districts.

"We have helped bring up a lot of students grades and like I said, it's a safe place. They get covered for Christmas. We cover them for school supplies, new shoes," said Kris Retzer, the head tutor.

The vast majority of homeless students live in doubled and tripled up living quarters.

Administrators say while the economy has contributed to the increase, they have also improved ways of identifying homeless students and are able to get many of them the help they need.

The San Luis Obispo County Education Office has identified about 1500 homeless students. 27 percent of them are in the San Luis Coastal School District--the most in the county.

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