Housing SF homeless students may cause them to leave the school district

Efforts to house San Francisco’s homeless families with students in the public schools can seem bittersweet at times.

That’s because some housing programs relocate families outside of San Francisco. Plus, to attend The City’s public schools, one must be a local resident.

The issue was discussed during Thursday’s Board of Supervisors City and School District Select Committee on family homelessness. Discussions about residency requirements are expected to continue.

Jeff Kositsky, executive director of Hamilton Family Center, a nonprofit working to end family homelessness by 2019 in San Francisco, said that when families are relocated outside of The City through its rapid rehousing program, such as using rental subsidies, the students must leave the public school district by the end of the school year or apply for an “interdistrict transfer.”

If the transfer is granted, a student may need to attend a different school, according to Kositsky.

“Whereas that is unfortunate, our stance is that right now there is over 2,000 students that don’t have a stable place to live,” Kositsky said. “Our priority is to get those kids stabilized housed. We look at the Bay Area as a region as opposed to it being defined as San Francisco.”

He noted that more than half of the homeless students served need to move out of San Francisco.

Homeless students became a larger focus last year, as nationwide there was a notable increase. Locally, the homeless student population nearly tripled during the past 10 years: 844 in the 2004-05 school year compared to last school year’s 2,352, according to data from the San Francisco Unified School District.

To address the homeless families in the school district, Hamilton Family Center signed an agreement with the school system to streamline its services using a hotline to prevent evictions and to help secure housing for families without them.

Beginning in January, the nonprofit worked with 45 different schools and received 125 phone calls and emails from school staff, related to homeless students or families.

The waitlist for family shelter beds has declined, which may be attributable to the increased city focus, but it has started trending upwards. In 2013, the wait list had grown to 287 families waiting to get a shelter bed. “It dropped to a low of 122. That is the lowest it’s been since 2008,” Kositsky said. “And now the waiting list is back up to 134.”

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