Educators, liaisons aim to keep homeless students on track
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of stories on homelessness in the Tri-state.
BULLHEAD CITY — Homelessness can happen to anyone at any time in their life.
An often underrepresented demographic of homelessness is children, either alone or with parents or guardians.
Lance Ross, director of community relations/public information officer for Bullhead City Elementary School District 15 and Colorado River Union High School District 2, said there are 97 students — 53 BCESD students and 44 CRUHSD students — who are homeless.
There are 35 students in the Laughlin schools who are classified as homeless, said David Roddy, Clark County School District public information specialist.
“Schools don’t receive funding to provide assistance,” Roddy said. “Instead, assistance is provided by the District’s Title I HOPE department and various community organizations and businesses who serve as benefactors for this segment of our student population. The situation with Laughlin is unique as assistance like clothing, backpacks, food, etc., can be provided through CCSD’s Title I HOPE department. However, due to the supports in place in the Tri-state area, the Laughlin schools and their students receive support from the Legacy Foundation. Additional support is provided by various community organizations and businesses like Friends of Metro, VFW, Elks and various casinos in Laughlin.”
The term “homeless student” covers a wide range, including students living with their families out of their cars, families in emergency shelters or crisis housing, students who have been thrown out of the house, students who have not been emancipated by the court system and more.
“That number (97) is actually down from 188 at the start of the school year, in part because some families may have moved out of the area,” said Ross. “The demographics are across the board, and ages range from pre-kindergarten students to high school seniors. While most homeless students would be considered below the poverty line, or whose families would be considered working poor, that is not always the case. The parents may not be poor, but the student suddenly is. A student would be considered homeless if he or she is thrown of out the house because of an argument with a parent or stepparent, rejected by parents after coming out as LGBT, or even in some rare cases turning 18.”
CRUHSD and BCESD receive Title I funds which are federal funds for public schools with a high number percentage of poor children, according to Ross.
“BCESD also has a separate Title VII-B grant, known as the Education of Homeless Children and Youth grant, which covers a homeless liaison,” Ross said. “CRUHSD uses its Title I to pay for its homeless liaison, who has additional responsibilities. However, because there is so much overlap, such as a homeless elementary student who has a sibling in high school, the two liaisons work closely together.”
Nadina Angulo is the family and homeless liaison for Mohave High School, River Valley High School and CRUHSD Academy.
“In the district we see primarily two different groups: students who have been kicked out of their house, and students who are experiencing economic hardship and now have had to move in with a family member, living in a hotel or other places,” Angulo said.
Every student who enrolls at Mohave High School must fill out a form that specifies their living situation, she said, to allow staff to identify and assist students in hardship situations.
The psychological and emotional toll of homelessness affects everyone differently, Angulo said.
“It really depends on the situation that they are in,” she said. “We have some students who we know are dealing with this but have good grades. We have others who are missing school a lot and because of that their grades are not where they are supposed to be. It also depends on what kind of living situation they are in and how stable their situation is. In some cases, students are going through economic hardships but they have a stable household; others are going from place to place and don’t have a stable situation.”
When the district is aware of a student’s hardships, it adjusts expectations, Angula said.
“We also help the students who are in this situation by not counting the days they missed against them,” she said. “I also work with their teachers to reschedule exams in order for the students to be able to pass the classes.”
Connecting youth with additional services also is part of Angulo’s job.
“We have staff here at the school that helps counsel students who are in this situation but sometimes we have to refer them to WestCare for them to receive further counseling,” she said.
Angulo said she has seen situations where students go home, find their stuff outside the door and have to find a place to stay.
“A lot of times, school is not the priority for students who are over 18 years old and who are in this situation,” Angulo said. “They have to start working immediately in order to support themselves or to support themselves and their siblings or their newborns. In those cases, we find job opportunities for them and we help them find resources in order for them to succeed in their academics while maintaining a job. We bring them in and go over their financial statements and help them make a budget in order for them to be able to pay all of their bills.”
Providing a helping hand is often the difference between sheltered and unsheltered situations, she said.
“We get help from various programs in the city and a couple of clubs here in school help out as well,” Angulo said. “We have clothes here that are provided by Title I and those are specifically for students who are homeless. We have students who aren’t homeless but who are experiencing an economic hardship at the moment and that’s where other foundations that we work with step in. They can help them and their families for immediate support and help them get back on their feet.”
According to the Point In Time count for Mohave County, there are 319 households sheltered in an emergency situation with at least one adult and one child, 119 are transitional, 111 are unsheltered. Under the age of 18, there are 216 who are sheltered in an emergency situation, 75 are transitional and 60 are unsheltered. There are eight households between the ages of 18-24 who are sheltered in an emergency situation, one is transitional and 10 are unsheltered.
“I cannot stress enough how often faculty and staff also pay or donate out of their own pockets to help homeless students,” said Ross. “It can be as low-key as filling up a backpack with a non-perishable food or helping furnish a new apartment. I recall a previous homeless liaison personally paying for several boxes of feminine hygiene products for a student. That’s not an isolated occurrence.
“Another staff member intervened with one of the resort properties across the river when a family with students in both BCESD and CRUHSD was in a crisis housing situation and about to be evicted so that a lower rate could be charged for the room.”