According to a 2020 UCLA report, aptly called, State of Crisis, 4.4 percent of children in Los Angeles County in the 2018/2019 school year were homeless. That number is now higher due to COVID-19.
By Jennifer Hall Lee
Here in the Pasadena Unified School District, there are 15,316 students and 686 of them are
homeless or housing-insecure (living with relatives, friends). That’s quite a number. Homeless and housing insecure students have higher rates of absenteeism, lower graduation rates, and have greater needs for mental health services.
Academic success is best achieved when a student has a stable home and a quiet space to work and think. For a homeless child the public school can provide stability in addition to a desk, daily nutritious food, after-school programs, and staff to provide counseling.
Now we have the COVID pandemic which is deepening the problems of a homeless child. What is PUSD doing?
Educating the whole child is a policy in PUSD. In fact, Pasadena is the first district in California to have a stand-alone mental health policy.
The Student Wellness and Support Services department has a staff of four dedicated people in the Families in Transition team (FIT). Its work includes identifying homeless families (or those in transition) and assisting them according to their varying levels of need.
If the family needs counseling, FIT makes it happen. If they need food, clothing and toys, FIT provides it to them. (We are assisted by the generosity of the Salvation Army and the Pasadena Tabernacle as well as financial help from the Pasadena Educational Foundation and Pasadena Community Foundation.)
FIT provides a limited number of students with prom attire when needed because being homeless shouldn’t preclude a child from participating in joyful rites of passage.
Every child enrolled in the PUSD has a Chromebook, but providing WiFi access to all students has been a challenge in 2020 given the differences in children’s housing situations. However, our ITS department now reports that we have more hotspots available than we have requests – every child now has a hotspot or WiFi access.
The student body in public schools is a reflection of our whole community, that’s the beauty of public schools. This breadth of diversity helps us to better empathize with one another. The recent UCLA report, “State of Crisis,” predicts a surge in student homeless rates in 2021 throughout the state.
PUSD and the FIT team have a strong foundation upon which to meet the challenges ahead.
Jennifer Hall Lee is a Pasadena Unified School Board member and an Altadena resident.
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