MYTHS ABOUT HOMELESSNESS
MYTH #1: THE ONLY HOMELESS STUDENTS ARE THOSE THAT SLEEP OUTSIDE OR IN SHELTERS.
THE TRUTH: Although many Santa Fe students and siblings live in shelters, cars and outdoors (including teens that have left school for a variety of reasons), at least half of our families live in doubled up and other crowded conditions. The SFPS Adelante Program is governed by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which defines homelessness in a broad way in order to provide services for families that are close to being out on the streets. Plus, McKinney-Vento grasps that these families are not only in a precarious living situation, but the children face most of the same issues of children living in shelters: lack of privacy to do homework, lack of food, bedding and warm clothing, no utilities, fear of when they’ll be kicked out of the place they’re sleeping, chaos, and the need to take care of siblings and sometimes even parents.
MYTH #2: MOST PARENTS OF HOMELESS STUDENTS HAVE LEARNED TO WORK THE SYSTEM AND ARE FAKING THEIR SITUATION FOR PERSONAL GAIN.
THE TRUTH: Through screening families, we have found that most are truthful about their situations. In fact, many hesitate to describe the gravity of their situation until they get to know us.
SFPS Adelante screens out approximately 50 students per year who do not qualify but are still in great need, and we refer them elsewhere to receive appropriate services. While there will always be some who obtain some services but are not truly in need, our concern is for those hundreds of children and youth who qualify for our services but have yet to discover SFPS Adelante.
MYTH #3: ONCE A STUDENT’S FAMILY BECOMES “PERMANENTLY” HOUSED, THE SCHOOL DISTRICT SHOULD NOT PROVIDE THEM WITH HOMELESS SERVICES.
THE TRUTH: By law, once a family is registered as homeless, services are maintained for them throughout the entire school year, even if they’ve found long-term housing. Further, McKinney-Vento states that homeless services should be provided on a case-by-case basis for one full year after the family has been housed, whenever possible. This shows much foresight, since many of our families wind up back in homeless situations again within a few months. The most important goal is to maintain stability and well-being for the children so that they have the greatest chance to succeed.
MYTH #4: MOST HOMELESS FAMILIES WIND UP IN THEIR SITUATIONS BECAUSE OF LAZINESS.
THE TRUTH: The most prevalent causes of homelessness in our community are: domestic violence; huge medical bills coupled with a continuing need for medical care; illnesses; and financial crises such as job loss or a car that breaks down. Each of these situations place a family with a tight budget at risk for homelessness. A lack of affordable housing that matches people’s wages and a lack of documentation allowing immigrants to work legally to support their family are some of the greatest problems our clients face. Some families are also coping with mental health and substance abuse issues.
MYTH #5: HOMELESS PROGRAMS OFTEN ENABLE FAMILIES TO STAY IN THEIR DIFFICULT SITUATIONS BY PROVIDING SERVICES TO SUPPORT THEM.
THE TRUTH: As with learning challenges in students, we have to walk a fine line between offering supportive services and high expectations. SFPS Adelante provides case management to families who have needs in several areas. Our goal is to help our clients establish the foundation they need for the independence, empowerment and resilience needed to succeed in school and live a productive life.
MYTH #6: HOMELESS TEENS ARE SUBSTANCE ABUSERS AND DANGEROUS, AND THEY’RE NOT INTERESTED IN IMPROVING THEIR LIVES.
THE TRUTH: Although many homeless teens have substance abuse issues, almost all unaccompanied homeless teens are escaping an abusive and/or untenable situation at home and are often “self-medicating” because they haven’t found the appropriate services. These youth are often in highly dangerous living situations. Many still want to attend school but can’t seem to get beyond survival issues. SFPS Adelante and the rest of the youth providers have a long way to go to provide effective services to the hundreds of homeless teens and teen parents out there.