There are nearly 300,000 children identified as homeless in California public schools each year. Among many challenges, these students struggle to obtain the most basic necessities such as socks, underwear, hygiene supplies, school supplies, and other materials needed for social development, educational success, and overall well-being. Authored by Ted Liu (D – 33rd District) and co-sponsored by the California State PTA, this legislation will provide state funds along with matching grants from non-profits to meet basic material needs ( socks, shoes, underwear, hygiene products like toothpaste and soap, and school supplies) for children without family support or financial means.
Consider a child like Mary,* a student in the 2nd grade who likes history and science. One day Mary’s teacher noticed she had holes in her shoes. Once she noticed the holes in Mary’s shoes, her teacher looked closer and saw her long dark hair hadn’t been washed in some time and that there was duct tape covering up several holes on her backpack. Trained to look for signs of homelessness, Mary’s teacher contacted the school district’s local homeless liaison who subsequently met privately with Mary and her parents to offer support.
Mary was homeless. Mary, her parents, and her two siblings were recently forced to move from their apartment to a single room in an old highway motel where the rent is weekly and much more expensive. This left little financial wiggle room for anything other than food and transportation – resulting in Mary’s worn out shoes, broken backpack, and lack of hygiene products and other necessities.
While meeting with the school district homeless liaison, Mary’s parents were provided a “Student Nighttime Residency Questionnaire,” which includes a needs assessment. By filling out this form, Mary’s parents provided the district homeless liaison with a list of all of the items that they were not able to provide for Mary currently (shampoo/hygiene items, a backpack, shoes, etc.). Unfortunately, with no dedicated public financial resource in California designated to specifically address the unmet material needs of homeless kids, there were few resources on hand for the liaison to help Mary even though her needs were documented and there was a district staff person willing to run a supply pantry for kids in Mary’s situation.
The story of Mary’s struggle and the inability to obtain the most basic dignity of life items necessary for her social and educational success and well-being, is a reality faced by the nearly 300,000 kids identified as homeless in California each year. An op-ed published in the Sacramento Bee by a school librarian in 2014 outlines the problem further (link).
There has however been one bright spot. In 2013 the legislature established the School Supplies for Homeless Children Fund, which receives contributions from individuals on their personal state income tax forms for the purpose of providing school supplies for homeless children. To date the program has received an impressive 145% match of private resources and will reach every county in California this year. Although successful, the Fund receives only $1.00-$1.76 per homeless child annually.
Authored by Senator Carol Liu and coauthored by 18 others, Senate Bill 636 and a corresponding budget proposal would enhance this Fund by providing $16.80 per homeless child. The bill lays out a clear and practical policy to ensure local school district homeless liaisons could provide assistance to homeless children as they identify them. The bill has garnered support from private industry, with pledges of a 100% or higher match to public funds if the State chooses to act.
24 members of the California House Congressional Delegation and United States Senator Dianne Feinstein have authored separate letters to our Governor to support a solution.
The reality that there are 300,000 kids identified as homeless in our public schools each year is heartbreaking. While there are many supports needed to ensure children and youth experiencing homelessness are able to live secure and productive lives, this policy will swiftly solve one prevalent symptom of homelessness and prevent some of its consequences.
In the wealthiest state of the richest nation in the history of the world, it should not be a challenge to ensure children have the basic materials they need to be clean, healthy, confident, and able to learn.
Please let our state’s leadership know you support this effort and sign this petition. Please also consider sharing this petition with your contacts.