Board discusses Newhall District’s homeless students

Gina Rodriguez, the Newhall School District coordinator of Student Support Services, and Jason Busack, a social worker with the district, talk to the school board and administrators Wednesday about how they have identified 77 students within the district who are suffering from some form of homelessness.

More than 75 students in the Newhall School District are homeless, according to an eye-opening presentation the district’s board and administrators received Wednesday night from their Student Support Services Department.

“I’ve been here for a year and a half, and we’re now bringing forward all these things that (the board) might’ve not known had existed,” said Larry Brunson, director of Student Support Services. “Under previous leadership, this might not have been a priority … but now we’re bringing to the forefront a number of issues, and they’re making it a priority.”

During the presentation, Gina Rodriguez, the NSD coordinator of Student Support Services, and Jason Busack, a social worker with the district, discussed how they’ve been able to identify 77 students within the district who are suffering from some form of homelessness — five times the amount identified in previous years.

“Ninety-two percent of those students experiencing homelessness right now are either enrolled in special education or are English learners,” Rodriguez said. “This is a real issue in Santa Clarita, because I don’t think people think homelessness is a real issue here.”

The issues related to a student’s homelessness or having inadequate housing can result in a continued feeling of shame and ostracization among their peers, malnourishment and an overall decline in their academic development, according to Rodriguez.

Homelessness a reality in the SCV
The presenters went on to say one of the key components to their mission is to inform people that homelessness is a reality within the SCV, and the issue is not just about those students who are without a home, but those who are living in inadequate, shared housing situations.

“We define homelessness as ‘fixed regular and adequate,’” said Rodriguez. “So, is the housing fixed, there every night and is it adequate for the student and family.”

Over the last year, the Student Support Services staff at the district has been able to identify a number of students who are living in cars, motels or at a friend’s residence. Others are in a shared residential unit, with multiple families living in a single family living area.

“We have found that a lot of our students are sleeping on the floor, on a couch or on a pad,” said Busack. “Ideally we’d like to get that student in a bed … but there’s four or five people sleeping in one room … and there’s no space.”

According to Busack, he has become a recognizable face at Walmart after he has made continual trips to the store in order to purchase air mattresses, which are small and compact, and the necessary items these students need to be prepared to attend school and learn to the best of their ability every day.

Those looking to find out how to help the Student Support Services Department at the Newhall School District can reach out to their office at 661-291-4182. Donations can be made year-round or during the NSD Clothing Drive being held Feb. 25-29.

“Anything and everything helps,” Rodriguez added.

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