By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Skyrocketing apartment rents creating more homeless students

It is a story becoming more frequent in Manteca.

Families are given notice the apartment complex they are living in is being upgraded. And once the apartments are refurbished rents jump as much as $340 a month. Some of those families find they can no longer afford to keep a roof over their heads.

And if they happen to have school-age children, that is when Lynda Donelson enters the picture

Donelson is in charge of dealing with “transitional families,” the new 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.

Donelson came across a family in Manteca with three school-age children living in a tent this week that up until a few months ago were able to make ends meet before being slapped with a major rent hike.

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.

This school year has not started out well. After just four days of instruction there are 307 students that already have been identified as homeless under guidelines established by McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistant Act that became law in 1987. Donelson said that is significantly higher than normal.

Among those were families with kids displaced from three house fires in recent months as well as those living at the Motel 6.

“I had 17 voicemails this morning regarding homeless students,” Donelson told a gathering of the Manteca Interfaith Community Appeal on Wednesday that had gathered at the Islamic Center of Manteca to present the school district homeless outreach with $5,650 worth of gift cards to help Donelson and those she works with assist homeless students.

Those calls came from teachers throughout the district.

Donelson said teachers in Manteca Unified are well-trained and very effective at identifying kids who are being distracted by homeless situations.

The surge this year in a good economy is being attributed to a large degree to rising rents. Two bedroom apartments among complexes included in the Manteca Bulletin’s semi-annual survey of local complexes in an 18-month period ending in June saw increased rents ranging from 11.5% to 18.4%. One complex — Union North — jumped the rent for a two bedroom and two bathroom unit by $340 a month.

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 had a peak of 1,086 homeless 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.

That peak number last school year also includes 129 youth who were living in an abandoned building, vehicle, tent, campground, or on the streets. 

Donelson accompanies community outreach teams organized under the umbrella of the Manteca Police Department’s efforts to address homeless issues. But she also goes out on her own given families with children living without a roof over their heads often find more secluded areas. Manteca Unified also includes Lathrop, French Camp, the Weston Ranch area of Stockton, as well as rural Manteca. That means there are a lot more homeless within the district besides in the City of Manteca.

That search takes her to area campgrounds such as Doe Reis and Two Rivers as well as along both the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers where homeless seek places to set up tents and such near levees. Donelson noted many families have been avoiding camping at Caswell State Park due to concerns about violence. The county campgrounds — just like the state — typically have a maximum limit to a stay of 30 days. The families move out but are allowed to come back two or so days later providing there is space.

Donelson makes sure homeless students are able attend  the last school where they enrolled before becoming homeless even if they have been forced to move around and even to move outside of the district to Tracy or Stockton.  That often means the district providing transportation.

The district’s concern is not simply focused on homeless students.

With nearly 60 percent of the district’s students being part of families that can qualify for free or reduced meals under federal guidelines due in large part to the high cost of housing, there are needs that can distract from learning the district strives to address.

To that end there is a network of clothes closets that are operated by school parent groups aimed at helping keep students in struggling families clothed. The largest at Manteca Day School also includes clothing that parents may need for job interviews. There are clothes closest at Lincoln, Joshua Cowell, Lincoln, Lathrop Elementary, and Brock Elliott schools as well as an elementary campus in Weston Ranch.

Typically many families struggle with being able to afford everything from clothes to keep their children warm in the winter to being able to have properly fitting shoes.

Educators have noted in the past a child in ill-fitting shoes, as an example, is distracted by the discomfort when they are trying to learn.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email