San Mateo County, CA — The Bay Area Geographic Leads Consortium, which consists of five Bay Area county offices of education, including the San Mateo County Office of Education, released a joint report with WestEd highlighting the needs of students experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. The white paper, Addressing the Needs of Students Experiencing Homelessness During the COVID-19 Pandemic, features promising strategies that schools in each county have put in place to provide additional support to these students.

According to the report, the number of students experiencing homelessness has increased by 48 percent over the past decade in California, with approximately 4.3 percent of students enrolled in California’s public schools experiencing homelessness in 2019. Among those participating in the consortium, San Mateo County reported the highest percentage of students experiencing homelessness at 2.4 percent in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The five county offices of education in the consortium — Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Solano — convened monthly meetings to learn together and share approaches for addressing the unique barriers facing students experiencing homelessness, with an initial emphasis on reducing chronic absenteeism. The white paper highlights promising practices implemented by each Bay Area county to support students experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, drawn from the expertise and perspective of 20 county administrators. 

All counties noted that with schools closed to in-person learning, staff at the district and school levels sought out creative approaches for identifying, reaching, and serving students experiencing homelessness. Among the effective responses are increasing mental health supports, distributing food and technology, and creating online modules for teachers and staff to build their capacity in supporting students experiencing homelessness during distance learning. In San Mateo County, a key piece in this process is identifying which students are facing housing insecurity or homelessness and educating them about their rights under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

“The hardships faced by students experiencing homelessness have increased significantly since schools transitioned to distance learning last March,” said Nancy Magee, San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools. “Since then, we have worked with our school districts and community partners to adjust and expand our efforts to serve these students. While there is more work to do, we have been able to provide technology for distance learning, identify funding sources, open learning pods, rethink grading and testing, and cultivate student voice to address the needs of those experiencing homelessness throughout this pandemic.”

The white paper offers steps and strategies to address the needs of this vulnerable group of students. By working collaboratively across counties in the region to share, analyze, and replicate these promising practices, the Bay Area Geographic Lead Consortium is providing much-needed support to students and families experiencing homelessness, and ultimately to improve academic and social-emotional outcomes for these students.