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LA Unified Scrambling to Count Numbers of Homeless Students

Chase Niesner | November 7, 2013

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National Homeless Youth Awareness Month

November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, and LA Unified’s Homeless Education Program is holding events to highlight the need to remove the educational barriers caused by homelessness.

They are barriers the District is finding hard to overcome.

Before 2006, there was one homeless student liaison for the entire district. Since the homeless program began that same year, district officials have sought to have a liaison at each school site everyday, though budget cuts have made that almost impossible.

The district identified 13,794 homeless students for the 2012-2013 school year, down from 16,346 the year before. In a resolution to draw attention to November as a month to recognize homeless students, Board President Richard Vladovic said each of five of LA Unified’s seven districts has more than 1,500 students identified as homeless.

But officials with the homeless program say the recent decrease in numbers likely has more to do with how students are counted than with their actual number. Ana Quintero, a homeless education counselor, said budget cuts have reduced the number of people at school sites who are counting.

“We cut the designated homeless school site liaison, then all of a sudden there’s no more homeless students at the school,” she said. “But this doesn’t mean the problem has been resolved.”

Marissa Gongora, a pupil services counselor at South East High School in Southgate, is responsible for ensuring that resources such as backpacks and writing tools provided by the homeless program reach the students who qualify. LAUSD defines homeless students as those who live on the street, in apartments with friends or in motels or garages with their families. Gongora says the number of homeless students at her school increased this year.

“If you’re at a school site one day a week, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the work, the demand,” Gongora said. “The proper forms might be filled out, but the students might not be counted and they likely won’t be receiving services.”

The Homeless Education Program was designed in 2006 to provide assistance to homeless students and their families in compliance with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, an integral part of No Child Left Behind.

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