Mission Promise Neighborhood Task: Helping Students in Transitional Housing

Homeless BlogBeing a family success coach for the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) team is an exciting, impactful job, with its goal of guiding kids on a cradle-to-college-to-career continuum. This federal program is based on the successful Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, now replicated by MEDA and 26 community partners at a quartet of poor-performing schools in San Francisco’s Mission District.

The job does come with myriad challenges, including families in financial and emotional distress, making it difficult for a child to study and achieve.

One of the main causes of such distress is the ongoing San Francisco housing crunch, especially evidenced in the increasingly popular Mission District.

How can a student stay focused and successfully remain on the road to a bright future when their family’s living situation is unstable?

By the numbers
In the worst case scenario, a student’s family is in transitional housing. A recent study by the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) discovered a shocking statistic: 141 MPN students in the four Mission District schools are in such transitional housing, with 118 of those students Latino. This unsettling statistic was determined by the city’s Families & Youth in Transition (FYIT) program.

Transitional housing was broken down into the following categories, by number of students:
Temporarily doubled up: 89
Temporary shelters: 36
Hotels/motels: 12
Temporarily unsheltered: 1
Temporarily doubled up (pre-natal): 1
Other: 2

These statistics showcase the depth of the housing issue in San Francisco.

Family issues
Danielle Winford, a native San Franciscan who grew up in the Ingleside neighborhood, deals every day with the issue of schoolchildren in transition. As the SFUSD FYIT District Coordinator, it is her job to help students through this difficult time. Winford has actually heard an anecdote of eight families living in one unit, with kids sleeping in the hallway.

Thanks to the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act, passed in 1987, every student has the right to stay in their school of origin.

McKinney-Vento Act gives transition students the right to:

  • Remain in the same school even if their family moves
  • Enroll in a new school without such typically required records as proof of residency, immunizations, school records or other documents
  • Receive transportation to school
  • Obtain site-based services at school
  • Challenge decisions made by the schools and districts

It is Winford’s job to ensure that the McKinney-Vento Assistance Act is met, even if a child needs to commute a long distance. “After housing, the main request I get from families is for transportation. I work to get students free MUNI Fast Passes or BART passes. Whatever it takes to ensure they have a way to get to school,” explains Winford.

A main element of Winford’s job is coordination of services. She works closely with school nurses and social workers to get students–and their families–the services they need to ensure the youngster’s success, despite their being in transition with regard to housing.

“I started as a teacher and later got my Masters in Social Work. The truth is that you can’t be a teacher without being a social worker,” states Winford.

Those skills come in handy as Winford deals with the ongoing challenges of keeping students in their school of choice . . . and on the road to success.

Mission Promise Neighborhood family in crisis
Hard-working single mother Manuela E. has sole onus for the care of her 10- and 13-year-old daughters. The eldest, Sophia, attends Everett Middle School, part of the Mission Promise Neighborhood.

4. Roberto AparicioMPN Family Success Coach Roberto Aparicio has been guiding the Mission District family through a difficult time, as they are being evicted from their residence of seven years on Capp and 20th streets, with all residents of the property being displaced.

Manuela’s friends and family are surprised that this is happening to someone like her–a community activist as a member of the collectiva. She prides herself on being involved and always knowing her rights.

It is happening. By September 1st, the family will be forced out of their home, having to temporarily double up with Manuela’s sister in her apartment across town in the Presidio. Manuela and her two children are about to become a statistic.

This situation has also created the issue of a total loss of household income, as Manuela has been running a permitted daycare center in her residence (she is legally allowed to care for up to eight children.) These clients will not follow Manuela to another part of town. Even if she can somehow find an apartment rental in the next six weeks, new permits and licensing will need to be garnered, adding to an already taxing situation.

And then there is Sophia, removed from the comfort of home, away from her friends, school and community.

Interestingly, Aparicio did not hear of this story until the eviction process had begun. The reason was that Sophia has somehow managed to do well in school through this family crisis. Her grades are good. Her behavior is exemplary. She is off the radar.

Yet when Sophia comes home, the teenager is prone to bouts of depression, having internalized the stress of losing the place she calls home.

Aparicio actually became availed of this family’s story when he attended an SFUSD training in March—a training geared around youths who were in transitional housing. Sophia’s English teacher had read an essay the youngster wrote about her family’s prospective eviction and asked if she would be willing to read it at this meeting. Sophia agreed.

As her words of despair and frustration spilled forth, tears rolled down Sophia’s face. She wasn’t the only one. 

Service integration
Aparicio has since been of service to the family in their desperate attempt to find  affordable housing in a city of ever-increasing rents.

To better her credit score—essential for landlords to even think about renting to you–Aparicio steered Manuela back to MEDA Financial Capability Coach M. Teresa Garcia. Manuela first met Garcia back in 2005 when the coach helped her get a city grant to buy toys and equipment for her new childcare business.

This time, Garcia’s strategy was to set Manuela up with a Secured Credit Card—a strategy that worked, as that credit score rose to 649 after only three months. This reduced Manuela’s stress, as she thought she could now find a new rental.

This has yet to happen.

On Garcia’s counsel, Manuela tried becoming part of a rental co-op called Baker’s Dozen, located in the city’s Western Addition neighborhood. Manuela was not picked. Garcia conjectures this is because it would be three persons in one room.

Then Manuela tried another co-op, Parker Street Cooperative, despite it being across the Bay in Berkeley. Once again, she was turned down.

Manuela searches for a new home for her family every day, but hope is slipping away as each week passes. Daughter Sophia fears an uncertain future.

Hoping for the best; preparing for the worst
Family Success Coach Aparicio explains his task as follows: “My job is to connect the dots so that MPN families know all of the appropriate services out there. With so many families having housing issues, family success coaches have realized the need for a partner that offers shelter space so that we can get our families immediately placed. That is the reality of the situation for far too many MPN families today. Manuela puts a face on a tragic problem.”

Aparicio is now researching family shelters with the best reputation in San Francisco, as it appears Manuela’s story may not end well.

As Aparicio does so, he fears another call from an MPN family finding themselves in a housing crisis.