Some live in cars a night or two then bounce between weekly motels rooms when their parents can afford them.
Others end up spending a few weeks or so bedding down in the front room of friends’ homes before moving to other temporary shelters — perhaps a garage or another couch somewhere else.
Some are spending several months at one of HOPE Ministries’ three family shelters. A few live on the street.
They are the homeless students that attend the 30 campuses within the Manteca Unified School District.
Currently just fewer than 3 percent or 629 of the district’s 23,000 students are homeless.
Homeless students under federal law are defined as those that lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence inducing those that are temporarily living in homeless shelters, motels, parks, cars, the streets, abandoned buildings, campgrounds, and temporarily sharing housing with family or friends due to the loss of housing or economic hardship.
While Manteca Unified complies with every federal and state requirement concerning assisting homeless students, staff makes a concerted effort to go beyond the minimum thanks in part to the community and other parents stepping forward.
“The community is a big help,” noted Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer.
One of the most high profile efforts that benefits both homeless students and other students in need for families struggling financially are clothes closets operated at 10 campuses — East Union High, Manteca High, Sierra High, Weston Ranch High, Shasta, Brock Elliott, Neil Hafley, Lincoln, Joshua Cowell and Veritas.
Volunteers help operate the closets that accept new and gently used clothes. Cash donations allow the purchase of new underwear.
In some instances school personnel will look for a community benefactor to buy an essential item for a student. In one case, Messer was asked if he could help with a high school student that was a tad larger than normal that was in dire need of a warm winter coat.
“It stunned me,” said Messer who hadn’t been clothes shopping for teens for a while, “ at how expensive a real coat can be.”
Messer noted that some homeless kids — fortunate enough to get a new pair of shoes from another source — often face a quandary. They are growing so fast that their feet quickly outgrow the new shoes making wearing them extremely unconfutable distracting while trying to do school work.
“If you look at the shoes they are in real good shape people might at first not understand why they need new shoes,” Messer said.
In such cases the shoes — as well as clothes students outgrow — are taken back by the clothes closets if they are gently used. They are then washed and made available for other students in need.
Donations from groups such as the Manteca Sorptomists, Women of Woodbridge, Remax, the Manteca Interfaith Community Appeal, Manteca Quilters, Shasta School students and private donations also provide everything from backpacks and toiletries to blankets.
Messer said school staff has developed networks within the community of individuals they can go to when a homeless student has a pressing need such as dental issues. Those helping often provide their free services on an off day such as Saturday and prefer to remain anonymous.
“We can always use help assisting our homeless students,” Messer said.
Other steps the district takes to assist homeless students include:
uMaking sure homeless students are immediately enrolled without requiring documents such as immunization records or proof of residence.
Transportation to and from school of origin. There are four vans dedicated to that purpose with trips often going as far as Lodi and Stockton to make sure students stay in get same school throughout the academic year.
Free breakfast and lunch.
School supplies and backpacks.
Clothing, shoes and other items as needed to ensure full participation in school.
Counseling at school sites.
Medical/dental referrals and assistance accessing these services.
The key to Manteca’s high level of success in helping homeless students function better in school was a decision to have teacher liaisons that receive referrals about homeless students at each site. They communicate with the referring classroom teacher to keep tabs of academic progress and the need for academic intervention.
The district’s health service oversees the program. They work with families to fill out health insurance applications and related matters.