The Vista Unified School District has seen a trend over the past three years that is startling;
The number of homeless students in the district is currently 2,500, a jump of 925% from the 2007, when there were about 270 students documented to be in the same situation.
Vista officials are citing two reasons for the rapid increase; first, officials feel that they’re doing a much better job at identifying students in these tough situations. Second, unemployment, home foreclosures and a nasty economy have created undesirable situations for many families. The City of Vista (which makes up the majority of the school district) was classified as the seventh-best place in the United States for family life (based on education, job availability, and business opportunities) in 2008, but the economic recession that began that year created a large number of layoffs in the over 800 companies that once supported the community.
Officials have noted that under tough economic conditions families will often move in with close friends or relatives as a last resort before ending up on the street; Vista's policy classifies a family "doubled up with friends or relatives becuase affordable housing cannot be found" as homeless. Children often locate to areas further from school, and parents typically do not have a vehicle or access to public transportation.
To keep homeless kids in class, VUSD received over $500,000 in federal funding the year. The idea is to launch outreach programs to keep kids well fed and sheltered, and provide transportation to and from school. Part of the money will be spent by placing one homeless student liaison at each of the 34 schools in the VUSD to provide direct assistance to students and parents who find themselves in tight spots.
Vista Unified's Policy on homeless student outreach:
If a family lives in any of the following situations:
- In a shelter, motel, vehicle, or campground
- On the street
- In an abandoned building, trailer, or other inadequate accommodations, or
- Doubled up with friends or relatives because affordable housing cannot be found
Then preschool-aged and school-aged children have certain rights or protections under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act.
The rights are:
- Go to school, no matter where they live or how long they have lived there. Must be given access to the same public education, including preschool education, provided to other children.
- Continue in the school attended before becoming homeless or the school last attended, if that is the choice and is feasible. If a school sends a child to a school other than the one requested, the school must provide a written explanation and offer the right to appeal the decision.
- Receive transportation to the school attended before the family became homeless or the school last attended, and a guardian may request such transportation.
- Attend a school and participate in school programs with children who are not homeless. Children cannot be separated from the regular school program because they are homeless.
- Enroll in school without giving a permanent address. Schools cannot require proof of residency that might prevent or delay school enrollment.
- Enroll and attend classes while the school arranges for the transfer of school and immunization records or any other documents required for enrollment.
- Enroll and attend classes in the school of choice even while the school and family seek to resolve a dispute over enrolling the children.
- Receive the same special programs and services, if needed, as provided to all other children served in these programs.
- Receive transportation to school and to school programs.
When a family moves, they should do the following:
- Contact the school district's local liaison for homeless education (see phone number below) for help in enrolling in a new school or arranging to continue in his or her former school. (Or, someone at a shelter, social services office, or the school can determine the person you need to contact.)
- Contact the school and provide any information that will assist the teachers in helping with the adjustment to new circumstances.
- Ask the local liaison for homeless education, the shelter provider, or a social worker for assistance with clothing and supplies, if needed.
If further assistance is needed, call the National Center for Homeless Education at the toll-free HelpLine number:
Local Area Contact: Rebecca Benner, (760) 726-2170, ext. 2377 or 2218.
State Coordinator: Leanne Wheeler, (916) 319-0383