A Solution to the Problem of 250,000 California Homeless School Kids Going Without Supplies

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Officially recognized by Congress on July 11, 2007, November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. Nowhere is this awareness needed more than in California.

According to the most recently available data from the California Department of Education, there are approximately 250,000 pre-K to 12th grade homeless school-aged children in our state, as defined the U.S. McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Los Angeles County alone has more than 60,000 homeless children, a total greater than every other state except for Texas, and just barely. Homeless children are not limited to our urban cores, as there are more than 10,000 in California’s rural counties to the north, more than 50,000 in the Inland Empire, and thousands more in the Central Valley.

Homeless children and youth are without question the most under-resourced demographic within our public schools. That is why in collaboration with more than 200 school districts and county offices of education, we have built a statewide effort to systematically provide every homeless child with the comprehensive school, dental and hygienic supplies they need to achieve.

As required by the U.S. McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, each school district designates at least one McKinney-Vento (homeless) liaison. Each liaison identifies the homeless students in their district and is responsible for distributing goods and providing services. K to College partners directly with these homeless liaisons to ensure that basic materials reach the children most in need. To identify preschool-aged children we work with County First 5 Commissions, who can identify the best programs and/or shelters.

Utilizing this structure to distribute materials to tens of thousands of homeless children throughout the state, we are continuing to work with all stakeholders to build an efficient, sustainable, and scalable system to provide these and other basic life needs materials.

Working towards this goal, in addition to partnering with school districts and county First 5 commissions throughout the state, we have successfully sponsored two pieces of legislation to build this system. The first, Senate Bill 608, authored by Senator Mark DeSaulnier and coauthored by Senator Loni Hancock, changed the state penal code to enable inmates enrolled in the California Prison Industry Authority to assemble our school supply kits as part of a larger, successful rehabilitation program.

The second was Senate Bill 1571. Also authored by Senator DeSaulnier and coauthored by Assemblymembers Nancy Skinner, Fiona Ma, and Jared Huffman, Senate Bill 1571 established the School Supplies for Homeless Children Fund, which allows taxpayers to designate contributions to the Fund on their personal state income tax returns.

It is the collective goal of our growing coalition of school districts, county offices of education, state associations, corporate partners and others to form a nonprofit system that ensures homeless and other low-income children and youth have a lifeline of support for basic material needs.

We will provide an additional update on our progress in early February of 2014. If you have any questions, please contact us.