How Do We End Generational Homelessness? Start With Our Kids

I am a proud HB Oiler, class of 1988. I attended Dwyer, had dances in the city gym, competed in MUN conferences, and also experienced homelessness with my family on and off from 7th – 12th grade.

My dad was a technology entrepreneur before the world believed we’d all be carrying around our phone/personal computers in our pockets and we went from living in Seacliff to the Tropic Motel.

Gratefully, homelessness was only a chapter in my story which included others like community college, graduating from UCI, going on to law school, and becoming a litigation partner at a large firm. Ultimately, the storyline found me serving as the CEO of Project Hope Alliance, an Orange County nonprofit that fills in the gaps and eliminates the barriers that homelessness causes in the lives of our community’s kids that prevent them from knowing that anything is possible for them. By showing up for our kids in real time and coming into their lives and directly onto, their public-school campuses in Huntington Beach, Newport Mesa, and Santa Ana school, districts we are ending the cycle of homelessness, one child at a time.

In its 2020 report, State of Crisis: Dismantling Student Homelessness in California, the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools reported nearly 270,000 K-12 students in CA experienced homelessness in the 2018-19 school year, enough to fill Dodgers Stadium 5 times. These students represent approximately 4% of all CA K-12 students, and they are disproportionately students of color. And these are pre-pandemic numbers.

Students experiencing ho-melessness (if they can overcome the transportation barrier) come to school struggling to eat, sleep, live outside of the shell of fear, and to find their way amidst their peers while struggling with feelings of isolation and shame. These barriers can seem insurmountable. Uniquely though, the school campus is where the students are and serves as an ideal location to meet their needs.

Project Hope Alliance brings highly skilled trauma-informed case managers onto school campuses full-time. We embed ourselves into the campus culture. Case managers are visible and approachable on campus. We join all staff meetings and are viewed as part of the campus team. Teachers and staff may note signs of housing insecurity: a student’s spotty attendance, poor academic performance, arriving on campus early to wait in line for food, or showering in the gym. When they see the signs, school staff now have a resource for immediate referral and assistance in real-time. Our case managers attend meetings related to suspensions, chronic absenteeism, and behavioral issues (for which homeless students are disproportionately penalized) as they occur, providing an advocate for the student and solution partner for the school. With a 30:1 student-case manager ratio, we are able to make transformative and trauma-informed work possible.

Last year 100% of the students served by Project Hope Alliance graduated high school (more than 25% above the national average for students experiencing homelessness) making them 346% less likely to experience homelessness as an adult resulting in a projected community savings of $14.3 million by 2030.

This work is time, labor and cost intensive, but transformational. We have been able to witness students flourish in the classroom and beyond. Together, we can ensure that students experiencing homelessness today are not adults experiencing homelessness tomorrow. We have the resources available to expand this program onto every campus in Huntington Beach. We just need the will. Let’s join together for the kids and end generational homelessness.

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