Lynda Donelson every day sees the economic damage inflicted on families due to business shutdowns ordered to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are now cases where three or four families are living in one house,” said Donelson who serves as the homeless liaison for the Manteca Unified School District. “There are five families that are actually renting garages. It’s a big difference from last year when we’d come across families just living in a garage. Now they are renting the garages.”
Donelson was at a gathering Wednesday morning of the Manteca interfaith Community Appeal at the Islamic Center of Manteca. She was there to accept $4,100 in gift cards and 114 new T-shirts donated by members that include St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Seventh-Day Adventist, Islamic Center of Manteca, and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, the Sikh Community of Manteca, Baha’i Faith, Transition through Hope, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“A lot of people that have lost their jobs are just trying to survive,” Donelson said.
The economic impact of the pandemic has sent up homeless student numbers from 680 at this time last year to 861.
MICA at the start of each school year donates new clothing as well as gift cards that Manteca Unified can use to purchase essential clothing that homeless students lack ranging from properly fitting shoes that are not falling apart to winter jackets.
Donelson said people paying rent to live in garages is jarring. It came to light when school principals — that have to document where homeless students are living and whether they are paying rent — reported instances of where families said they were paying rent in a bid to secure shelter in a garage for several months at a time.
“How do you rent a garage for a home?” Donelson asked. “It’s not a fit place for children to live.”
Donelson is in charge of dealing with “transitional families,” the bureaucrat-speak handed down by federal and state government. In straight-forward English she is the Manteca Unified School District’s homeless liaison whose other duties include working with foster children that are enrolled in district schools.
Her mission is to make sure that not only homeless youth get an education but also to address basic needs such as hygiene, clothing, and such so that they won’t be distracted from learning or stick out as a homeless student.
A big problem this year is making sure homeless youth are attending school via distance learning. Besides making sure they have a school-issued device, many are provided hot spots by the district of they do not have Internet access.
“Give Every Child a Chance has been a huge help” Donelson said. “When they have a space available they will take a homeless student.”
Instead of operating after school programs, the free tutoring service during the pandemic is a distance learning center for students whose parents are both working and can’t supervise them at home as well as for the homeless. Students are at a GECAC location throughout daily distance learning lessons.
Another concern is making sure homeless students are feed. While they can walk to any school site serving free meals given many lack transportation, there are some staying at locations a long way from schools including camping along the river with their families.
Under the definition of homeless incorporated in the 1987 federal act that mandates school districts identify and provide certain services to homeless students, Manteca Unified as of Wednesday had 861 students out of an overall enrollment approaching 25,000 students last school year. The definition includes those housed in a shelter, living in motels, leaving with family or friends because they are a runaway or unaccompanied youth, and those living temporarily in a house or apartment with more than one family due to the loss of housing or economic hardship.
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