How to Reach Homeless Youth

By Steve Smith
Posted 9/7/11

Raise your hand if you know how many students in School District 27J are homeless.

    The number will probably surprise you.

    According to Beverly …

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How to Reach Homeless Youth


Raise your hand if you know how many students in School District 27J are homeless.
    The number will probably surprise you.
    According to Beverly Esquibel, district homeless liaison and community outreach coordinator, in 2009 there were around 284 students considered homeless; last year’s number was up to 408. This year, the district won’t know the exact number until later in the year, but Esquibel expects it will be similar to 2010.
    “I think it’s just the economy that’s put a big impact on a lot of these families. Many of the folks who normally would be working lost their jobs. A lot of them were in construction,” Esquibel said.
    As the district’s homeless liaison, she works with individual students and families who are considered homeless to bring them support, access to services and ensure that the students are getting to school and staying in school.
    Homeless liaisons are a mandatory facet of school districts across the country.
    “We assure students are given the opportunity to have more stability,” said Esquibel. “Say they go from school to a domestic violence shelter. To keep them from suffering more, we bus them to and from school. They also automatically qualify for free lunches.”
    What do you think of when you hear the word homeless?
    “We don’t see homeless people on the street, so we don’t have any,” said Esquibel - this is the most common misconception of the term.
    “The stereotype of the homeless person is not real, especially here in Brighton,” she said. “Most families may not even realize that they are homeless. They’re just doing what they need to do to keep their family in tact.”
    Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act passed in 1982, a family or student is considered homeless if they live in any of the following situations: in a shelter, motel, vehicle or campground; on the street; in an abandoned building, trailer or other inadequate accommodations; or, doubled up with friends or relatives because they can’t find or afford housing.
    Esquibel said many people in the district may not even know that they qualify as homeless and could be failing to benefit from assistance.
    The McKinney-Vento Act says all preschool and school-aged children have the right to go to school and be given access to the same public education provided to other children; continue in the school they attended before becoming homeless; receive transportation to the school they attended before becoming homeless; participate in school programs with children who are not homeless; enroll in school without giving a permanent address; enroll and attend classes while the school arranges for the transfer of school and immunization records; enroll and attend classes in the school of choice even during a dispute between the family of the student and the school; and receive the same special programs and services.
    Transportation is a major need for homeless students. Besides arranging rides to school for homeless students, the district also offers mileage reimbursement to parents who are able to take their kids to school but can’t afford gas.
    Esquibel said the community has had a lot of compassion and helped make sure that kids’ needs are being met.
    His Hands and local thrift store Rich Rags have made clothing vouchers available. Harmony Angels gives lots of support to students. They recently purchased 30 coats to donate to students, as well as shoes.
    “There are lots of people out there who are trying to help,” Esquibel said.
    Esquibel works closely with school registrars who notify her when a family might be doubled up with another family, living in a motel, car or homeless shelter.
    “We have families in the district who are tripled up with each other,” Esquibel said. “It’s a sign of the times. Parents are doing what they can to make ends meets.”
    There are also unaccompanied youth, or homeless individuals living on their own. Esquibel said they’re often referred to as “couch surfers” and are typically high school students.
    “The goal is to try to keep them in school and to graduate and complete financial aid at a college,” she said. Esquibel often works with Front Range Community College to get homeless students financial aid based on their income - when usually it is based off of a student’s parents’ income.
Esquibel said homeless students find stability in school because their home life is uncertain.
“That is the intent of what we’re trying to accomplish,” she said. Students, who are uprooted because of domestic violence, unemployed parents, or whatever the situation might be, want to walk into a classroom everyday with the same teacher and be greeted with a smile.
    There are attendance liaisons, a newer position within the district, which work closely with Esquibel to make sure kids are staying in school.
    “They’re our guardian angels and our ears and eyes inside the schools,” Esquibel said.
    Esquibel’s position was initially created through a grant financed by stimulus funds. It was supposed to be a two-year position, but once the district saw how essential it was, they kept Esquibel on after the grant money ran out last year.
    The grant money also helped pay for a web page on the school district’s website that directs parents and students to area shelters and organizations that can help them in a time of need.
    “The job offers its share of challenges,” said Esquibel. “Then it’s so rewarding. “It’s out of the mouth of babes that you find out you’re really doing the right thing.”

Contact Emily Dougherty at 303-659-2522 ext. 223 or



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