Salton Sea - Homeless Children


Last updated 8/27/2015 at 9:52am

July 16 a number of West Shores’ residents joined folks from all over the Coachella Valley in a meeting to discuss homeless children in our area. Yes, there are homeless children, right here at the Salton Sea.

The meeting was convened by Lothar Vasholz whose daughter and granddaughter are both teachers at SeaView Elementary School. They attested to their dad that a homeless problem existed at their school and, at his urging, they contacted West Shores Lions member, Salvador Gonzalez – also a teacher at SeaView – who contacted club members. We went from there.

Attending were Richard Pimentel, Principal at West Shores High School, Mitch Mansfield, SCSD General Manager, Lions International Immediate Past District Governor Mary Rynearson, Randy Rynearson, WSLC President Guibault, Recording Secretary Linda Boling, and me.

Here’s what we learned: the McKinney-Vento Act (The McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 (Pub. L. 100-77, July 22, 1987, 101 Stat. 482 § 11, 42 U.S.C.301 et seq.) is a United States federal law that defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” The Act gives examples of children who would fall under this definition:

•(a) Children sharing housing due to economic hardship or loss of housing;

•(b) Children living in “motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camp grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations”

•(c) Children living in “emergency or transitional shelters”

•(d) Children “awaiting foster care placement”

•(e) Children whose primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g. park benches, etc.)

•(f) Children living in “cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations…” US Department of Education: Law and Guidance/Elementary & Secondary Education; Section 725 – “Definitions”

Funds from the Act are directed to qualifying local districts by the State which receives it from the Federal Government. The money, usually between US$1,500 – $2,000 for Palm Springs, for example, is exhausted by October of any given year.

Representatives from Palm Springs Unified, Desert Sands Unified and Coachella Valley Unified School Districts were also in attendance; each stated that there were as few as 750 (CVUSD) and as many as 2,000+ (PSUSD) homeless students in their respective districts, with anywhere from 300+ to 400+ students matching the McKinney-Vento definition on any given night. However, Principal Pimentel stated that the most difficult thing for school administrators was to identify the students who are homeless because, typically, they will not self-identify.

In underscoring the need for help, it was stressed that the students are not on alcohol or drugs nor are they criminally involved. They want to graduate and, in fact, students who have been helped by the program show a higher attendance rate, GPA and graduation rate. Key to program success is that the entire effort is confidential with assistance being given through the school with the aid of the school counselor, who best knows student needs. Kids are never identified. At this time, only high school students are given assistance although the consensus is that aid will “trickle down” to younger family members.

Items that have been traditionally supplied include gift cards to local eateries (for weekend and holiday meals), clothing and/or gift cards specifically earmarked for clothing, school supplies, dental or vision care, athletic equipment and/or paying for physical so students may participate in sports.

Keynote speakers included Larry Cervarich, founder of the Homeless Youth Connection, an Arizona-based program he developed to serve homeless youth; Tom Leyda, President of the Anthem, Arizona Rotary which installed a branch of the Homeless Youth Connection in the Anthem community, an area adjacent to Phoenix. Many helpful ideas and offers of help and guidance were exchanged.

West Shores Lions members have talked to many officials of local organizations and clubs, all of whom have expressed interest in helping to get a branch of the Homeless Youth Connection started at the West Shores. We realize there are some seemingly enormous obstacles here, at the West Shores, that more urban areas may not face but, we are willing to work on serving these children in whatever way we can. If you are interested in joining us, please contact me at 760-394-4515.