The Hidden Homeless

The Hidden Homeless

Ina Habin, Staff writer

At a press conference on March 16, 2018, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer spoke of a first grader who attended two different schools in one school year, was absent 55 out of 178 school days, missed an entire school week, and was late on 101 different occasions. The kid was not sick or ditching school.

He is, in fact, homeless.

When the word “homeless” comes to mind, people usually picture a dirty person living on the street. However, this isn’t always the case.

The number of homeless students in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District is based on the McKinney-Vento Act and California state law. These principles homeless person as someone with “uncertain housing, a temporary address, or no permanent address.” Even if a student lives in a shelter, a hotel, another family’s house, or in temporary foster care, they are considered homeless.

“There are approximately 1200 students who are experiencing homelessness in FCUSD,” said Rebecca Budge, FCUSD’s Categorical Program Assistant. Though the number is scanty compared to other cities in California because high cost for rent and housing prompts some families in Folsom to relocate to more affordable areas so they’ll have a place to live. But some students and their families aren’t able to move or pay for a place to live, so they become homeless.

“Seventy-percent of our homeless students are likely being in a doubled up situation. Meaning someone they know is allowing them to stay with them until they can get their own housing. We also don’t have shelters in our area. They are downtown and areas located out of Folsom and Rancho Cordova,” said Elena Cabrera, FCUSD Director of Categorical Programs and Grants.

Budge explained, “To ensure homeless students have a good school experience, the district encourages them to participate in extracurricular activities and find donors.”

“Our primary work is to make sure they’re enrolled in school . . . have transportation . . . and get a free access to meals; breakfast, lunch, and supper if they are eligible,” said Cabrera.

Non-profit organizations work closely with the school district to help homeless students in Folsom. For example, the Girl Scouts of America and Soroptimist International help provide hygiene products and clothing.  

Unfortunately, homelessness can have a strong negative impact on a youth, even after they’re housed. According to Civic Enterprises, youths in a national research reported, “Greater than eight in 10 formerly homeless youth say that their homeless situation had a large impact on their lives, overall. Significant numbers of respondents say their homelessness had a significant impact on numerous other aspects, including their ability to feel safe, their mental and emotional health, self-confidence, ability to maintain relationships with family and friends, and their physical health and wellbeing.”

“In some cases, their parents aren’t just trying to find where they can find work . . . it’s harder to go from school district to school district and get your grades and classes all transfered . . . high school and junior high is hard enough without having to worry about where you’re going to sleep and can you find somebody’s house to crash at,” said Joe Rich, president of Project 680.

Civic Enterprises even says, “Nearly seven in 10 say it was hard to succeed and do well in school while they were homeless.”

Homeless students are usually referred to as “hidden” because they don’t look like the image of “homeless” typically given. It’s hard to know who could be facing this situation in schools.

Another study by Civic Enterprises reports, “Approximately two thirds of formerly homeless youth say they were uncomfortable (and nearly 4 in 10 were very uncomfortable) talking with people at their school about their housing situation and related challenges.” This is because students may feel embarrassed, fear of being bullied, or any possible negative outcomes with social services.

A homeless student at Civic Enterprises commented, “I don’t want to tell nobody . . . I learned that one time from telling the school that I was homeless and it went viral. And I didn’t like it because you know how school kids are, they want to get all idiotic and say little things, and they find out some little information and then it’s like ‘oh, he’s homeless’ and this and that . . . I want to tell my case manager, but I don’t want anybody feeling pity or sorrowful for me because I’m homeless.”

This also causes difficulties in identifying who’s homeless and giving them the help they need which is why some liaisons are concerned that they are “missing” a lot of homeless students in their areas.

“Other staff members could receive training in the signs that point to homelessness, or the proper way to intervene if they suspect a student is experiencing housing instability,” said Civic Enterprises. That way, school districts can better identify homeless students that aren’t uncomfortable talking about their situation, getting them the help they need.

To help the homeless student population, visit Project 680’s Get Involved or Spring Drive.