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New partnership works to end student homelessness in SF

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The number of homeless students in the San Francisco Unified School District has doubled from approximately 1,000 to 2,000 since the Great Recession. (Courtesy photo)

As we make our way around The City, we can’t help but encounter people who lack basic shelter. It is heartbreaking to see our fellow men and women suffer, doing without basic necessities and struggling to maintain a sense of dignity that every human being should have.

What you may not know is that a surprising number of our students at the San Francisco Unified School District are also homeless or living in temporary, unstable housing.

That some children in our city are homeless is not new. Before the Great Recession, our numbers were around 1,000. Now, it’s closer to 2,000. This breaks down to almost one in 25 students — practically one child in each classroom is now homeless or in transitional housing.

So how do we support these students better in school? How do we identify students who are homeless or about to be homeless so we can better support them?

Last month, I joined Mayor Ed Lee and Hamilton Families in announcing the Heading Home Campaign. This is a public-private partnership between the City and County of San Francisco, the SFUSD, Hamilton Families, other nonprofits and private philanthropy groups designed to dramatically reduce, and even eliminate, family homelessness in our city.

The City has invested $4.5 million — on top of the $35 million spent annually on family homelessness — and the campaign has raised $15 million in private funding, including a $10 million challenge grant from Marc and Lynne Benioff. Contributions have also been received from Salesforce.org, the Hellman Foundation, Google.org, the San Francisco Giants and many more donors.

This partnership funds more training for our staff, visits to our schools and connections to other agencies. It also improves the shelter system’s ability to accommodate families as needed. But more importantly, it aims to help families get out of those shelters and into permanent housing within 90 days.

This rapid rehousing and assistance has no preconditions — like employment, income, absence of a criminal record — and it is tailored to the needs of each household. In the SFUSD, we have a dedicated staff member who helps coordinate services for homeless youth and assists with getting school supplies and other essentials to students.

Finally, I am proud to say our students are helping each other. The Student Advisory Council to the Board of Education, a group of SFUSD high school student leaders, raises funds each year to provide homeless students toys and basic personal hygiene supplies.

We know that students whose families are under severe stress can have extra challenges when they get to school each day, and sometimes even getting to school can be tough. We are grateful to our many committed partners for joining us to help them succeed in school, feel more hopeful and reach a better, happier future.

Myong Leigh is interim superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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