Schools are a safety net for homeless children

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comDecember 21, 2012 

School nurses, teachers and staff of all kinds play a role in ensuring the needs of homeless children are met.

The Los Banos Unified School District, with an enrollment of about 9,700, has a recognized 44 homeless children. The district keeps records on students eligible for free and reduced lunches, and thus has identified homeless pupils.

Anne Gargano, one of two registered nurses for the district, said school nurses stay on the lookout for children in need. They often get tips from teachers or yard-duty personnel, she said.

"Oftentimes, they're very specific things," Gargano said, adding school employees want to meet children's basic needs.

"Sometimes their shoes are too small, or they're wearing their siblings' shoes," Gargano said.

There is not designated money in the school district's budget for homeless needs, outside of free meals.

Gargano said school staff works to connect families with individuals or nonprofits, like The Salvation Army, Manna Ministries or St. Joseph's church, that can help with food, lodging or clothing.

Social stigma can be an issue when dealing with homelessness, so school staff works to help children while respecting their privacy, she said.

Some of the children come from families who have lost a home or had to relocate, Gargano said, so they're sleeping on the floor in a multi-family home.

Paul Enos, the secondary area administrator, said homeless children are sometimes identified when they first enroll in the district. Those students may come to the district without a birth certificate, an address, proper immunization records or "they may not have any records at all," he said.

Enos said the law allows for children in that situation to be enrolled. He said the district has, on occasion, supplied children with items like physical education clothes free of charge.

Enos said district employees often take it upon themselves to meet the needs of schoolchildren.

"Our school nurses do an excellent job of finding out the needs of the families," he said.

Homeless funding

On the east side of the county, the Merced Union High School District received another three years of McKinney-Vento funding from the U.S. government, administered by the state Department of Education. It is helping about 900 students without a home.

The district receives $69,100 a year for the homeless program, which began three years ago.

Kelly Bentz, the Merced district's program administrator for child welfare, attendance and safety, said the program provides free or reduced-price meals, transportation to school, clothing, school supplies and personal hygiene items, along with referrals to other public and private agencies.

Enos said Los Banos has not applied for McKinney-Vento funding, but his office will look into it.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos

enterprise.com.

Merced Sun-Star reporter Doane Yawger contributed to this story.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com. Merced Sun-Star reporter Doane Yawger contributed to this story.

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