November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, but Monterey Peninsula Unified School District has been hard at work all year to support some of its most vulnerable students through a program that is the first of its kind in California, according to the district.
Families of students who are experiencing homelessness can access emergency short-term housing through a partnership the local educational agency has established with Motel 6.
Since its approval by the school board in April, Donnie Everett, the LEA’s assistant superintendent of Multi-Tiered System of Supports, estimates they have served between 30 and 40 students and families by providing them a three-night stay at one of two area Motel 6 locations as well as support in finding a more long-term housing solution.
“We have been doing a lot of work internally supporting our increasing number of homeless youth and families in our area and one of the consistent challenges that we had been facing was assisting and supporting our families who are in an emergency situation of not having a place to stay,” Everett said. “The idea is it gives a family a few days to know that they have a safe place to be, and during that timeframe, working with our liaisons to identify a more long-term solution.”
While the district has seen an uptick in the population of homeless students and families in recent years, Everett said this may be partially because of an increased focus on identifying them.
The situation has also been exacerbated by the pandemic. For example, many local families work in the hospitality industry, which was disrupted.
“At the end of the last school year we had identified roughly 22 percent of our student population as McKinney–Vento [Act], and that’s a little over 2,000 students,” Everett said. The district serves roughly 9,600 TK-12 students. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is federal legislation that ensures the educational rights and protections of children and youth experiencing homelessness.
Reasons that families may be experiencing short-term housing needs range from being evicted to the high cost of living to loss of a family member or job. They could be fleeing a domestic violence situation or impacted by a wildfire. Local shelters are often at capacity, Everett said.
In conversations with a Motel 6 regional representative, the district learned of the chain’s existing Corporate Plus program, which allows the LEA to be directly billed via an online portal system.
The district receives discounted rates for rooms. The program is currently being funded through American Rescue Plan Act dollars, which are expected to sustain it over the next few years. Everett said the district is also considering the use of other funding, like Title I dollars, to continue the much-needed support. Providing students with some consistency and a place to stay so they can continue to attend school and avoid learning disruption is a priority.
On average, one or two families every two weeks is using the program, but there are some weeks where multiple families participate. In order to qualify, students/families must attend a school in the district, be eligible for McKinney-Vento services, live or reside with the family when requesting services, agree to work with an MPUSD community liaison or social worker during the process and not have any other alternative housing options.
Once a family has been identified by the district or reaches out, they’re connected with one of five liaisons who gathers relevant information from the family to assess the situation and determine if there’s an immediate need. If so, they send a form with basic information (like a name, phone number and if they have pets) to the district for approval and a reservation is made. Families are typically able to access the motel that same evening.
“All the family has to do is show up and everything is set for them,” Everett said, noting they are made aware of the policies at the hotel in advance and that it’s a three-night stay.
According to Everett, families report having a positive experience during their stay.
In a few instances, however, the motels have been completely booked and alternative solutions needed to be found. In some cases, the liaisons have been able to navigate available options and help families find a longer-term housing solution. In some cases, families have had their motel stay extended “to give a little bit more time to ensure that they have a safe place to go to once that stay ends,” Everett said.
Monterey Peninsula USD has a central Family Resource Center as well as smaller resource centers on each of its campuses with necessities such as food, clothing, hygiene products and school supplies available. The high school sites also have clothing washer and dryer machines.
This is all part of the continuum of services they are establishing, which may include a safe parking program and a local family foundation to provide short-term rental assistance in the future. Both are in the works and have feeling Everett optimistic.
This is all possible, in part, because of the support of the school board. “Our school board has been extremely supportive of this and continues to be very involved in how we continue to leverage our resources to support students and families who are experiencing unstable housing,” Everett said.