Local school districts are on a mission to find homeless youths, described by many experts as hidden in plain sight.
The Riverside Unified School District and Moreno Valley Unified School District each plan to increase the number of counselors they send to individual schools to better identify homeless youths.
RUSD will hire 14 counselors to work with at-risk youth, which includes those who are homeless. They’ll be paid with state Local Control and Accountability Plan funding.
Both districts also received federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act funds for homeless youth services. RUSD plans to use that money to help pay for specific homeless-youth services such as bus passes and hosting outreach events. The funding also may help pay for more nutritional services, books and backpacks, tutoring, homework assistance at homeless shelters and access to field trips.
There are thousands of homeless youths throughout the Inland area.
In 2014, Riverside County identified and worked with 25,731 homeless public school students at some point in the year, and San Bernardino County identified as many as 36,866 homeless students, according to data from the California Department of Education.
In the city of Riverside, there were 3,826 homeless students identified, and 3,352 were identified in Moreno Valley, according to the state data.
Those numbers reflect only those students that school districts were able to identify as homeless. But many remain uncounted because they don’t share their housing situation with school officials.
Woodie Rucker-Hughes, homeless-student coordinator for RUSD said there are likely hundreds that may be uncounted — those still on the streets or sleeping in the living rooms of friends and relatives.
Rucker-Hughes, who works to find homeless youths and connects them to student services, now has $128,140 in McKinney-Vento funds to help homeless youth. Moreno Valley Unified School District received $157,979.
The San Bernardino County Office of Education was granted $225,684 in McKinney-Vento funds for the 2015-2016 school year. The Ontario-Montclair School District received $157,979 and San Bernardino City Unified School District got $142,462.
The Riverside and Moreno Valley districts both will use the funds to increase educational services for homeless youths, and Riverside will also use LCAP money to hire more counselors.
“Additional counselors are something sorely needed in the district,” Rucker-Hughes said. “These folks will come in and help lighten the load, and counselors will be given more meaningful time to be spent with the kids who need it.”
Currently RUSD uses two to three full-time counselors to work with homeless students. In the Moreno Valley school district, as many as 10 counselors are paired with homeless youth, but those counselors also have other duties.
To Rucker-Hughes, having more counselors will help schools find more of the hidden homeless.
Efforts like this truly show why Riverside is such a unified city. Riverside is a caring community that has compassion for all of its inhabitants, and engages with one another for a better life for all.
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