Number of homeless students on the Central Coast is on the rise

Posted at 6:42 PM, Jul 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-25 21:42:37-04

In California, a shocking number of students are forced to balance tests and homework with the struggle of having no place to call home. Next month, kids are headed back to school and the number of homeless students has increased here on the Central Coast.   "I was born in Santa Maria but when I was three years old, I moved over to Ohio. I moved over to Pennsylvania. I’ve lived in Arizona. I’ve lived in a lot of places," said 15-year-old Jeremy, a high school sophomore in Santa Maria. Jeremy has faced abuse and poverty, and it’s left him struggling to keep up at school.Despite his hardships, his outgoing spirit, energetic personality and happy-go-lucky attitude shine through the camera lens. "Anything that has to do with being athletic, getting dirty, anything that has to do with jumping, around I’ll do it!" Jeremy exclaimed. You wouldn’t know he’s one of the thousands of students considered homeless on the Central Coast. "House drama, my mom couldn’t keep up with the bills, and California was way too expensive," he said. They’ve moved around the country many times, not getting too comfortable because they knew they weren’t staying anywhere for long.  "Arizona was the worst place," Jeremy said. "There was a lot of abuse that happened in the house, a lot of drama that happened in the house. It was not a good situation for us." After a while, Jeremy says his family split up.  "Being split from my mom the first time really hurt, it sucked," Jeremy said. His mother went back to Santa Maria to find someplace to stay, leaving Jeremy and a brother back in Arizona. "So we were all going to move back to Santa Maria, we were getting closer and closer. I remember it was finally time. I remember how happy it was when my mom said ‘it’s time to come back, Jeremy’. That is what I was waiting for." At that point, Jeremy had not seen his mom for more than two years.   "So she came to pick us up and we moved back to Santa Maria and we were all living in the shelter," he said. "We had a 1997 broken down, barely working Honda Accord," Jeremy described, remembering the 8+ hour car ride.  Jeremy and his family are now back in Santa Maria, all together. He says his family is surrounded with a good support system and is happy, but doesn’t deny it’s been tough.  "It was hard to make friends when I told them I was at the shelter," Jeremy said. "They would think of me as poor or homeless, but I just thought, if people don’t want to be my friend, then they don’t have to. They should just like me for who I am, not the amount of money I have, not for where I’m staying." When he moved back, he didn’t enroll back in school for a few months. "I missed a lot of school. I did, I really did," Jeremy said. Jeremy is still considered homeless, living in Good Samaritan shelter-funded apartments, but he’s not alone. Local nonprofits and school districts are working to support these families through emergency case management, after school programs, offering rides and places to stay, but they say they can’t do it alone. They’re looking for volunteers, financial support and donations of new backpacks and clothes. "It impacts their learning ability, environment and their self-esteem," said Dr. John Karbula, Lompoc Unified School District. "Our partnerships are really vital. Those agencies, they take over, we feed the kids. In some instances, it’s really heartbreaking. We take dirty clothes from some kids and we wash their clothes for them." The Lompoc Unified School District saw an increase of 200 homeless students this school year.  "I was shocked and I went to my truck and cried for 15 minutes because it was pretty heartbreaking seeing that big of an increase," said Shawndel Malcolm, Planting a Seed Non-Profit. "It’s embarrassing going to school wearing the same clothes twice a week, three times a week. It’s embarrassing to be hungry. Some of the kids are tired and fall asleep during school. These are all things that we take for granted and don’t think about. Some of these kids will age out of the system at 18 and end up in the riverbed." Here’s a look at the number of homeless students in some local districts during the 2017-18 school year, according to school staff and non-profits: Santa Maria10,000 "There are 10,000 homeless students in Santa Maria Valley Schools, at least," said Edwin Weaver, Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley. "Students who live at a motel are considered homeless," said Maggie White, Santa Maria-Bonita School District. "Students whose families live in a home with another family (or families) are considered homeless. Most of SMBD’s homeless students fall under that category. Their families live with another family in a single family dwelling." Together, they have determined there are 7,000 Santa Maria elementary school students who have identified themselves as homeless. In Santa Maria’s high schools, another 3,000 students are considered homeless.  "Most districts have become more diligent about identifying homeless students based on the state definition, because state funding is now based on the number of students districts have in three categories: foster youth, homeless students and English Language Learners," White said. Lompoc6002017-2018 600 students2016-2017 400 studentsAccording to the Lompoc Unified School District, there are approximately 600 students living in unfavorable situations. This means that they do not have a stable home — they are staying with a relative, friend, couch surfing, and the like. This represents an increase of more than 200 from the previous few years. "A student can be in an overcrowded situation, which isn’t optimal, but at least they have a roof over their head and they have some degree of predictability," Karbula said. "The students that it’s really hard for are the students that they really don’t know where they are going to be that night, or if it’s going to be safe or ‘will I even have a roof over my head?’ We know we have students that live down in the riverbed." Paso Robles612"From the 2017-18 school year, 612 students are counted as homeless/in transition active in our district," said Martha Clayton, Paso Robles School District. Those numbers are broken for this district as follows:83 Temporarily Sheltered (ie, homeless shelter)30 Hotels/Motels479 Temporarily Doubled-Up (due to financial hardship)20 Temporarily UnshelteredFortunately, the district has seen a decrease in homeless students from the previous year:2016-17 school year:  872 homeless/in transition110 Temporary Shelters26 Hotels/Motels723 Temporarily Doubled-Up (due to financial hardship)13 Temporarily Unsheltered Lucia Mar1,105The district’s McKinney-Vento numbers over the previous three school years have gradually decreased, according to Lucia Mar Public Information Officer Amy Jacobs.17-18: 1105 students 16-17: 1187 student15-16: 1462 studentsTheir total student population is 10,619."Once the student is qualified, we do everything we can to ensure that the students are successful in school and try to eliminate any barriers that are hindering the student’s success," Jacobs said. "A few things that our Families In Transition program does for our families are sign the student up for free and reduced lunch, school supplies, backpacks, clothing, toiletries, shoes and any other needs that we can try to meet. Every situation is different so we often have multiple discussions with students and their families as their housing and needs change."The definition of "homeless" is much broader by state guidelines than the average person’s definition of "homeless." All of these students are considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act.That means they may be living in the riverbeds, cars, motels, shelters on the street or in a crowded home shared with other families.  "That’s a really hard place to live when you are in elementary school. There is no place to do your homework, no place to sit down and have a meal," Weaver said. "You go into a bedroom, there is a family of five families in the one bedroom and 15-20 people living in the garage.""It’s hard, I’ll tell ya," Jeremy said. "But when we were in the shelter, all of the families were connected in some sort of way, so although we were living in a shelter it was like we were one big family." Jeremy keeps pushing on, finding a more stable place to live with his family, getting a new bike, and pursuing his dream of becoming a Navy aviation rescue swimmer."We went from the bottom to having no home, staying with family, to a shelter, getting a car a nice car, to getting a home, and we keep building up," he said. "I want people to know those who don’t have a home right now, it will get better." Items that are helpful to provide to students:  School supplies (college-ruled binder paper, mechanical pencils and lead, two-inch binders, blue, black and red pens, highlighters, spiral notebooks, glue sticks, etc..)  Jansport backpacks Toiletries Monetary donations  Gift cards to popular food places like Panda Express, Subway, Panera Bread  Gift cards for haircuts New clothing New shoes New towels