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SF education leaders push for resources for homeless students

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Left to right: Maraea Master, Ulad Skobliay, Leroy Gatlin, and a HARTS center employee. (Courtesy Ulad Skoblia)

With an increasing number of San Francisco’s students going to school hungry and leaving without a stable home to return to, The City’s education leaders are taking a stance on the issue by requiring educational institutions to “step up” in meeting students’ basic needs.

The San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education was expected to adopt a resolution on Tuesday that will direct the district to tap into its land and funds, and dedicate staff and programs toward caring for the more than 2,400 students in grades K-12 who are currently experiencing homelessness.

Educational institutions traditionally do not have homeless services outlined as part of their mission statements. The resolution will require the SFUSD to partner with the Department of Homelessness in addressing The City’s homeless crisis.

“The reality is that we all need to be doing a lot more than we are doing now,” said School Board Commissioner Matt Haney, a candidate for supervisor.

Last November, City College of San Francisco leaders took a similar stand on the issue by passing a resolution prioritizing ending food and housing insecurities among transitional age youth.

“Hunger [is] a problem of campuses across the country,” said City College Trustee Rafael Mandelman, also a supervisorial candidate. “We worked on that resolution, not knowing all the great work that students have already been doing.”

Along with fellow students and faculty members, City College student Ulad Skoblia rallied around bringing healthy food options, free of charge, to the college’s main campus at Phelan Avenue, including a food pantry — though the pantry has yet to be greenlit by the college’s administration.

“College life is about education, not about starving or finding money for a BART ticket to get to school,” said Skoblia, City College’s former Associated Students Vice President of Finance.

So far, the grassroots effort has brought food shelves to six different locations — including resource centers and teachers classrooms — throughout the campus last November. The shelves are stocked with healthy snacks, from granola bars to fresh fruit and sticky rice bowls.

Students have access the food shelves twice per day — the only requirement is “to be hungry,” said Maraea Master, coordinator of City Colleges’ Homeless At Risk Transitional Students (HARTS) program.

“It’s an honor system, but ideally it’s for the students with most need,” Master said.

A food shelf located inside of the HARTS Center is accessed by eight to 20 students daily — evidence of a pressing need for additional free or low-cost food services on campus, Master said.

Patty Baldwin, a retired English teacher at San Francisco State University, first championed the idea for a food bank when her partner, an English teacher at City College, shared the plight of one of her hungry students with Baldwin.

“She had a student who seemed to very ‘gung ho’ about the class, but while in class, he didn’t seem to be that [engaged]. It turned out he often didn’t have access to food,” Baldwin said. “We started packing a lunch for her student. It totally helped, he bounced back.”

Baldwin and her partner began looking for other resources at CCSF to help the student, but discovered that “CCSF didn’t seem to offer that much.”

Baldwin and her partner conducted a survey of some 1,100 students enrolled in CCSF’s English classes and found that more than 40 percent qualified as “food insecure” based on federal United States Department of Agriculture guidelines.

“I think that people don’t really realize how big the problem is,” Baldwin said.

In light of the college’s current efforts to address food and housing insecurity among its students, the food bank could soon become reality.

“There are several locations at CCSF where we could have a food bank,” said Thea Selby, president of City College’s Board of Trustees. “We need to find a sponsor [and venue] on campus, and we are well on our way to doing that.”

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