Liason now available to homeless students

By Nancy Gutierrez

In 2000, 33 percent of Tulare County's youth were living in poverty. A report by The Great Valley Center records parental unemployment in the Valley at 7 percent, which is higher than the state average.

Parental unemployment is measured as the percentage of children with neither parent employed. The document reported that population growth has put pressure on housing costs which are also rapidly increasing. The increase "prices-out" many low income families and as a result those families have trouble paying rent, in addition to covering the basic cost of food, health care and child care. These along with other factors creates a population of homeless families.

Last year the Lindsay Unified School District had 168 students classified as homeless. The definition of homeless is broad and includes those students whose families live in shelters, vehicles, campgrounds, on the street or as in many circumstances in Lindsay, stay with other relatives such as cousins, aunts or uncles because they cannot find or afford housing.

A definition from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 2001 also includes children and youth who are living in motels, hotels, parks, abandoned buildings, migratory children, and "anyone having a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for use as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings."

Atto Arguelles is the liaison for LUSD's Providing Linkages for Accommodations and Consistent Education (PLACE) program for homeless students. His job is to put the child in touch with resources available to him through the school and talk to counselors about the student.

"Studies show it takes four to six months before a student can get back into the swing of things," he said. "That's why we have to get help to these kids in school."

The program is a product of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act of 2001 and is available through Lindsay Healthy Start. The law states that students have the right to enroll in school without giving a permanent address and schools cannot require proof of residency that might prevent or delay school enrollment.

"Our main goal is to get a good education for these homeless students," Arguelles said. "They are allowed the same rights as every other student."

Arguelles said the school tracks these homeless students through their enrollment in Lindsay Unified School District. Upon enrollment students fill out a questionnaire regarding contact information. If the child has been in school parents usually provide the school with information concerning a change of address. The attendance clerk alerts Arguelles to any students who have indicated that they live with relatives, in campgrounds or other non-traditional sites.

Arguelles connects with these students and provides them with information on their educational rights and the tools available to them concerning their educational career.

Homeless students must be provided with transportation to and from school, this includes crossing district boundaries or special education bussing. These students are also eligible for the same special programs and services as provided to other children, including Gifted And Talented Education (GATE), special education, migrant education preschool and after-preschool programs.

This is the first year a homeless liaison has been available at LUSD. Arguelles said the program will be funded for three years and hopes it will continue to be funded. Parents are encouraged to contact Arguelles regarding assistance with their student's education if they are forced to move and find themselves in a homeless situation. For more information call Lindsay Healthy Start at 562-8292.

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