Homeless Children in a Golden City

This year, approximately 2,200 homeless children will attend public schools in the City of San Francisco. In an effort to help these children, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has partnered with the Hamilton Family Center to help at least 75 families who are homeless find housing this school year.

SFUSD teachers have been asked to look for signs of homelessness in a student, contact the Hamilton Family Center when a homeless child has been identified, arrange a meeting between the homeless family and the Hamilton Family Center and inform parents and staff of the program. When a homeless student is identified, a Hamilton staff member will go to that school, meet with the family and coordinate with SFUSD staff on how to best assist these families.

Hamilton Family Center hopes to provide eviction prevention services for up to 24 families referred by SFUSD this year and rapid rehousing services for up to 48 families referred by SFUSD. The Center will also train school social workers, nurses, and counselors, and continue eviction prevention assistance, rapid re-housing, youth programming, and support services.

A Growing National Trend

A recent finding from the Southern Education Foundation showed that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches to low-income families. 21 states reported that the majority of students in their public schools came from low-income families, which is up from 17 states in 2011, and from four states in 2005.

San Francisco has followed this negative trend for children. In 2005, 844 homeless children lived on the city’s streets, compared with 2,200 today. “We’re still in a recession – especially for low-wage workers,” said Jeff Kositsky, executive director of the Hamilton Family Center. Mr. Kositsky also said that on average, a one-time shortage of just $400 can be the difference between staying housed and being homeless.

Effects of Homelessness on Children

Homeless children and their families wait on average 6-8 months for a room in a family shelter. At Bessie Carmichael school, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that 116 of the 640 students were homeless or in transitional housing (an emergency shelter, a car, or other unstable living environment).

Homeless children are sick four times more than housed children. Homeless children go hungry at twice the rate compared to housed children. Furthermore, homeless children have an 83% chance of exposure to a violent event and are five times more likely to become homeless as adults. So one must ask: Why do we allow homeless children on our City’s streets, yet provide tax breaks to corporations so that they may find office housing? Why do we provide building permits to condominium developers, yet force our City’s children to sleep on the sidewalk below their dark shadows? Why do we need to ask these questions when we know a child could tell us the answers?