KCBS Cover Story Series: Our Homeless Schoolkids
A five-part series, running through Friday, December 19. Airing on KCBS 740/106.9 at 6:30am, 8:30am, 12:30pm, 4:30pm and 9:30pm.

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — More than 20,000 Bay Area schoolchildren are learning tough life lessons beyond the classroom because they are homeless.

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So just how are local school districts coping with this record number of homeless students?

LISTEN:

One out of every 25 California schoolchildren is homeless—that’s twice the national average. Even the Bay Area’s most elite public schools, have homeless students. Ben Kauffman, with with the Office of Pupil Services at the San Francisco Unified School District, said the schools take them in, even if they can’t prove a fixed address.

“If they don’t for example have a San Francisco residence, technically, but they are, for example, living in a shelter that will not be a barrier to them coming to school,” he said.

 

Galileo High School has 140 homeless kids that the district knows about. At Bessie Carmichael Elementary and Middle schools in San Francisco, 18 percent of the students are homeless. School social worker Amber Goldman tries to identify and help them.

“We start to notice things like coming to school late really, really tired. Tired and not engaged in classroom activities,” she said.

But many homeless schoolchildren are afraid to share their secret, such as one 10th-grade boy at Lincoln High School, who didn’t want to give his name.

“No. I haven’t told anyone,” he said.

Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Antoine Wilson said he understands.

“I know what it feels like to not want anyone to know and to be very ashamed,” he said.

Wilson knows because was homeless as a third grader, raised by a single mom with three kids to feed.

“We want to know and we want to help and there is nothing to be ashamed of,” he said.

Vicky, who didn’t want give her full name, is a substitute teacher for Oakland schools, said it’s easy to pick out the kids who need the support services the district offers homeless students.

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“You don’t get the homework back. I’ve sent supplies to help them do the homework and still it gets lost because they’re moving around, “ she said. “They’ll come sometimes hungry, tired.”

Much to the kids’ surprise, Vicky is homeless herself. She’s on a long waiting list with her own two children, for space at a shelter.

“They’ll say, ‘you don’t understand.’ I say well, I understand a little more than you think,” she said.

Shahera Hyatt, director of the California Homeless Youth Project, said schools do their best to help these kids, by offering them the most stable, secure place they go each day.

“For a lot of kids, who are homeless, school is a safe and happy place,” she said.

But often, the challenge is keeping the kids in school.

Hyatt was homeless too, starting at age 12, and then finally dropped out to get a job when she was 15.

“If you’re homeless as teenager and particularly if you’re separated from family of caregivers, you are much more likely to drop out of high school, and that was the case for me. I was what they called an ‘unaccompanied homeless youth,” she said.

So, how can this worsening problem be addressed? That will be explored in Part 5, the conclusion of our KCBS Cover Story series, on Friday.

HOW TO HELP:

To donate directly to help Vicky and her son Jordan: https://handup.us/members/vicky

Clara House – Compass Family Services
compass-sf.org/programs/clara-house

Hamilton Family Center
hamiltonfamilycenter.org

San Francisco Unified School District –Homeless Children fund for field trips, prom dresses, other expenses.
Contact Jan Walker 415-241-3030 x13338
walkerj@sfusd.edu

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California Homeless Youth Project
cahomelessyouth.library.ca.gov