Mission District school to open its doors to homeless students, families in November

Plans to temporarily transform the gym of a Mission District school into an overnight shelter for its marginally housed students and their families will be realized during a seven-month pilot program set to launch on November 1.

Earlier this year, teachers and administrators at Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 School sought support from the neighborhood’s supervisor, Hillary Ronen, in addressing housing insecurity and homelessness among an estimated 60 out of some 600 students currently enrolled there.

Some $700,000 for one fiscal year was earmarked in funding for the program in the Mayor’s two-year budget proposal, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The board is expected to take a final vote this coming Tuesday.

More than 2,100 students attending San Francisco public schools were identified as homeless in the 2016-2017 school year.

“It feels like every year things are getting more intense in terms of the level of strain caused by poverty and by concerns around documentation and status,”said Claudia DeLarios Moran, the principal at Horace Mann. “At least 60 kids that we know of are living in unsafe housing situations — in a tent, a car, doubled or tripled up with family members and friends who cannot guarantee their safety. It’s a huge concern for us.”

From November to June, some 20 families, or a maximum of 60 people, will find refuge inside of one of two gyms at Horace Mann, where beds, warm dinners, bagged breakfasts and an opportunity for showering will be provided.

The overnight program, which is still being designed, will be staffed and implemented by a non-profit organization that has yet to be selected — a request for proposals is expected to be issued by September. A school social worker and The City’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing will work in tandem with the nonprofit to connect families to long-term housing solutions.

School staff will not be responsible for running the program.

“We want to be protective of our staff time,” said DeLarios Moran, adding that the idea for the program originated among the students and parents whom it will serve.

“They’d say things like, ‘I feel safe here,’ to the social worker. ‘This is my is my happy place. I’d rather just be here,’” she said. “It’s been very challenging to turn kids and families away when we know we do have that space and it’s going unused. We also know that resources exist in the city but they aren’t accessing them, particularly in this political climate.”

Board of Education Commissioner and District 10 Board of Supervisors candidate Shamann Walton called the program the “best example of the school district and city government working together to solve a problem.”

“The City is paying for the services and it is providing these services. It will not take away from the focus on academics as a district but it’s an opportunity to address a major issue in San Francisco,” he said. “The families brought this to the supervisor and the district, that’s what makes this special.”

While the program has been met with support from “100 percent” of the school’s staff, several parents have shared concerns about safety, privacy and the impacts that the program could have on the academics of the greater student population, according to Ronen.

“There were parents certainly that had concerns and questions that were actually very helpful in designing a tighter, better program, and helped us think of things we weren’t thinking about,” said Ronen. “It’s the first of its kind and that’s a little bit beyond the typical scope of what happens in schools. There’s questions and anxiety and that’s totally normal and to be expected.”

Throughout the duration of the pilot, the City Controller’s office will conduct a “robust quantitative and qualitative analysis” to measure its success and impacts on students and academics, Ronen said.

“We might look at test scores, absences prior to this program and after, with the individual students,” said Ronen. “We will include the teachers’ assessments of the class… And the typical data of how many families in the program were able to secure permanent housing.”

Whether or not the program will extend into the next school year depends on the need and its success at the school, she said.

A meeting to inform parents and neighbors and gather input on the pilot program will take place at the school on Monday evening. On Friday, Ronen and DeLarios Moran spoke with neighbors and businesseses surrounding the school to gauge support.

Betsy Barron, owner of Love and Luxe at 1169 Valencia St., referred to the overnight program as “a gallant effort.”

“I hope it’s contagious,” said Barron. “I think that there is a lot of open space in The City that is just being hoarded, empty apartments with Airbnb, there are people coming in to buy properties for investment and no one is living there. And then we have this horrendous homeless problem, that affects children.”

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

Clarification: A spokesperson for Ronen has clarified that the meeting taking place Monday is intended for neighbors rather than parents.

Principal Claudia DeLarios Morán of Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 School and Supervisor Hillary Ronen chat with Lisenia Rivera about plans to use the school’s small gym as overnight housing for students and their families at La Mejor Bakery on Friday, July 27, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Laura Waxmann
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Laura Waxmann

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