It’s embarrassing and stressful to be a teen without a home. More and more young people, through no fault of their own, are housing insecure, either living on the streets, in a car, or couch surfing with friends or relatives. What’s worse, a recent report shows that California schools are not identifying their homeless students, and thus not referring them to readily available resources.
More than a quarter of schools in California have not identified a single homeless student, yet five to 10 percent of the state’s 4.3 million economically disadvantaged youths, those who qualify for free and reduced lunch, are homeless.
Homeless Youth Awareness Month is a good time to sound the alarm about this critical situation. Youth experiencing homelessness are 87 percent more likely to drop out of high school, plus they tend to develop chronic health conditions and use alcohol or drugs.
Learn4Life, a network of 85+ schools that offers free high school diploma and job skills training programs, is uniquely structured to the meet the special needs of students suffering from homelessness and housing insecurity. In the past three years it has more than doubled the number of homeless students who graduate. Last year 71 percent of its homeless teens earned their diploma, and got job and life skills training.
“There are three key elements to success with our homeless students,” said Lorena Galaviz, director of school counseling and student support at Learn4Life. “First, our entire staff receives homelessness awareness training and ongoing professional development designed to support the needs of these students. We know how to identify housing-insecure kids and help them with all the challenges that come with that.” No such formal training is provided to other California schools, which contributes to the under-reporting of homeless students.
Secondly, she points out that Learn4Life’s model offers flexible schedules and a blended model of independent study, one-on-one teaching and small group instruction give students the support and confidence they need to stay in school. Teachers and counselors regularly check in to see how students are doing and provide encouragement. “For many of our homeless and traumatized kids, our schools become their home, so we do everything we can to help them gain life skills and resiliency while giving them a sense of belonging.”
And third, the students are connected to both in-school and community support services, ranging from free backpacks, school supplies, clothes and hygiene items, to transportation, health care, mental health services and food assistance. School social workers are available to help families find housing and navigate services and financial aid applications. “We provide them the support they need to graduate with the skills, experiences and opportunities to be successful in college or a career,” Galaviz added.
Learn4Life is a network of non-profit public schools that provides students personalized learning, career training and life skills. Each school is locally controlled, tuition free and gives students the flexibility and one-on-one attention they need to succeed. Serving more than 47,000 students across California, we help students prepare for a future beyond high school. High-res images available upon request.
Ann Abajian, Learn4Life