More than 700 students ranging in age from first to 12th grade don’t have a place to call home.
Since Family Promise of Santa Clarita Valley opened its doors in June 2011, it’s been trying to address that eye-opening statistic.
“We know that family homelessness is different than personal homelessness,” said Roché Vermaak, executive director of Family Promise of Santa Clarita Valley, listing a few of the causes, “a person losing their job, someone gets sick — we know that families can’t afford the rent in the SCV.”
However, an economic situation like that can have a devastating impact on a child’s ability to experience “normal,” through no fault of the child, Vermaak continued.
“One of the things that happens is that these kids don’t know what ‘normal’ is,” Vermaak said, discussing the impact that homelessness can have on a child’s self esteem.
“A ‘normal’ kid has a room, has posters, can create a sense of identity — when you’re living in a car or motel… You’re ashamed because you’re homeless, you can’t invite friends over, you can’t socialize like ‘normal’ kids… We want to bring some normalcy back to these families.”
In response, Family Promise of SCV, is looking to raise funds and awareness for a new way to approach the homeless crisis.
The new initiative is called the School Support Program, said Laurie Ender, governing board president for Family Promise.
“The idea is to have our case manager and (interns earning their master’s degree in social work) available to the school districts when they have student needs that can’t be filled,” she said. “We know, as do the school districts, that classroom teachers are often the first to spot that a child is in need, whether or not they have officially been identified as “‘homeless.’”
Right now, the organization is taking a number of steps to help, such as looking to see where Family Promise can identify and meet the needs, with local schools.
Saugus Union School District Superintendent Joan Lucid met with Family Promise recently to explore how it could work with Family Promise on the district’s ongoing effort to address the needs of students less fortunate, much of which is overseen by Lauren Frey, the district’s homeless/foster youth liaison.
“Our homeless population is growing, and we met just to look at how Family Promise can help within the work that we’re doing,” Lucid said, explaining the importance of community partnerships for such challenges, “so that we’re really providing that network.”
Family Promise also is working with the William S. Hart Union High School District, which due to its large area and number of students, has the lion’s share of the Santa Clarita Valley’s student-age homeless population.
Vermaak shared the story of an Arroyo Seco eighth-grader they’re seeking to help, who’s a dedicated student, and the oldest of five children, but in need of a laptop in order to get ahead in school.
Family Promise is looking for support, partnerships and everyday items, too, such as diapers, which are one of their ever-present needs.
And one of the big goals right now is to create an avenue so the organization can afford to have a case manager, because the plan is not just put families back on their feet, so to speak, but also to help them achieve sustainable success.
“One of the things that we want to do is to look for funding so we can have a case manager,” Vermaak said, discussing financial literacy, and related services as crucial needs in creating long-term homelessness solutions. “We don’t just want a ‘Band–Aid.’”
The benefits of addressing family issues manifest in the classroom and throughout the community, Lucid noted.
“I think that we need to provide those support services for our youngsters,” Lucid said. “They’ve got to be able to do well in school, and if we can coordinate with the agencies within our community, it’s a benefit for these children and their families.”
Click here for the Family Promise of Santa Clarita Valley website.
|No. of homeless students
|Sulphur Springs Union
|William S. Hart Union