Common Myths About Homelessness

Myth: The only homeless students are those who sleep outside or in shelters. Truth: Although SFPS has many students and siblings who live in shelters, cars and outdoors, at least half of our families live doubled up in crowded conditions. The Adelante Program is governed by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which defines homelessness in a broad way in order to provide services for families that are a day or week away from being out on the streets. Plus, McKinney-Vento grasps that these families are in a precarious living situation and face tough issues: lack of privacy to do homework, hunger, lack of bedding and warm clothing, no utilities, fear of when they'll be kicked out of the place they're sleeping, chaos, and the need to take care of siblings and sometimes even parents.
Myth: Most parents of homeless students have learned to work the system and are faking their situation in order to get into a particular school or obtain more clothing. Truth: Through screening families, we have found that most are truthful about their situations, and in fact, many hesitate to describe the entire situation until they get to know us. However, the Adelante Program screens out approximately 50 students per year who do not qualify but are still in great need. When we explain that they are not eligible for our program, we refer them elsewhere to receive appropriate services. Rarely, parents will lie to qualify for our program and we may not catch everyone who "faked it" to get services. However, we are more concerned about those hundreds of children and youth that we have yet to discover who qualify for our services.
Myth: Once a student's family becomes permanently housed, the district should not provide them with homeless services. Truth: According to the law, once a family is registered as homeless, services are maintained for them throughout the entire school year, even if they've found long-term housing. Further, the McKinney-Vento law states that homeless services should be provided on a case-by-case basis up until one full year after the family has been housed. This shows much foresight, since many of our families wind up back in homeless situations again within a few months. The most important goal is to maintain stability and well-being for the children so that they may succeed. Therefore, we will provide tutoring and other supportive services as needed and when we can afford it.
Myth: Most homeless families wind up in their situations because of laziness. Truth: The most prevalent reasons we have observed for homelessness are: domestic violence; huge medical bills coupled with continuing need for medical care; a financial crisis occurs (loss of job, car breaks down, illness), which places the family in jeopardy due to an already tight budget; lack of affordable housing to match people's wages; and, Latino immigrants with minimal access to services, and no documents to work openly to support their family. Some families also have mental health and substance abuse issues.
Myth: Homeless programs often enable families to stay in their difficult situations by providing service to support them. Truth: As with learning challenges in students, it's important to balance that fine line between providing supportive services with high expectations and just "doing it" for the person. Adelante provides case management to families that need extra services due to multiple needs. Our goal is to promote independence and empowerment as well as supportive networks.
Myth: Homeless teens do drugs and aren't interested in improving their lives. Truth: Although many homeless teens have substance abuse issues, it's important to remember that almost all unaccompanied homeless teens are escaping an abusive and/or untenable situation at home and are often "self-medicating" because they haven't found the appropriate services. These youth are often in highly dangerous living situations and many still want to attend school, but can't seem to get beyond survival issues. The Adelante Program and the rest of the youth providers have a long way to go to provide effective services to the hundreds of homeless teens and teen parents out there.

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