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Shelters, cars and crowded rooms: California’s homeless students

By in Press Enterprise on October 5, 2017

By EdSource

BY CAROLYN JONES AND DANIEL J. WILLIS, EDSOURCE

Alison is only 14 but she knows what she wants to be when she grows up: A surgeon. It’s not easy to study, however, when you’re so exhausted and hungry you can barely get through 9th-grade biology.

An immigrant from Colombia, Alison is one of more than 200,000 K-12 students in California considered homeless because they lack stable housing. And like most of those students, she lives with her family in a home shared with other families — in her case, two other families.

“I go to school every day because I like school, but sometimes I can’t concentrate,” said the Santa Maria teenager whose district reports nearly a third of its students are homeless. “When you’re that tired it affects your personality. You feel like … not much.”

As California’s housing costs continue to soar, more and more children like Alison are suffering the severest of consequences: No place to call home. Since 2014, the number of homeless children in California has jumped 20 percent. In the most recently released data, 202,329 young people are living in cars, motels, shelters, on the street or in crowded homes shared with other families.

That’s just over 3 percent of the enrolled K-12 students, more than twice the national rate, but the actual numbers are almost certainly higher. Schools rely on parents to report their housing status, but shame, fear of deportation or the government taking away their children discourage many parents from truthfully answering the housing questionnaire — typically given to all families at the beginning of the school year.

(Graphic courtesy EdSource)

For families like Alison’s, filling out forms and staying on top of school requirements is not always easy. Her family, for example, has moved six times, including a stint in a rented van, since they left […]    

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