“Safety and security don’t just happen. They are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
– Nelson Mandela
As a nonprofit dedicated to supporting children experiencing homelessness, we understand the anxiety and trauma families suffer living in homeless shelters, but we cannot begin to imagine the stress and fear children and parents are enduring by being separated and held in tents and detention centers.
No matter what our opinions are about immigration policy, surely we can all agree that children have no control over their situation. Children are fragile and vulnerable. The impact of separation on them is unconscionable. We can’t unsee images of babies and children being taken from their parents to be used for political reasons. There is no protocol in place for keeping track of parents and children concurrently, for keeping parents and children in contact with each other while they are separated, or for eventually reuniting them. Surely a nation as generous and compassionate as the United States can find a way to prevent separating children from their parents.
If we are to protect our civility, our values, our worth as a society, we must first protect our children… all of our children.
On today’s show, Jason Richter and Dustin Burford join Adrian and Ethan in the studio. Adrian chats with Natasha Bayus, the Education Director and Lisa Frias, the Student Support Coordinator of School on Wheels, a nonprofit in Los Angeles working to bring educational opportunities to homeless children.
In this interview, Natasha and Lisa talk about the history of School on Wheels and how it has progressed over the years along with discussing the increase of homelessness in Los Angeles.
More than one million public school students in the United States have no room to call their own, no desk to do their homework, no bed to call their own at night. State data collected by the National Center for Homeless Education shows over 1.3 million homeless students in the 2015-2016 school year.
Here in California, as housing costs continue to soar, more and more children are suffering the severest of consequences: No place to call home.
Since 2014, the number of homeless children in California has jumped 20 percent. In the most recently released data, 202,329 young people are living in cars, motels, shelters, on the street or in crowded homes shared with other families. That’s over 3 percent of the enrolled K-12 students, more than twice the national rate, but the actual numbers are almost certainly higher.
In school, these homeless children face daunting challenges and require social services and academic help perhaps more than any other group. Faced with extreme poverty, stress and exhaustion, these children are far more likely to struggle academically and drop out of school than their peers.
Startled by the alarming increase in homelessness in the past year, 12 Latina girls from San Fernando High School have taken it upon themselves to search for ways to help the homeless. These students are part of a program called DIY Girls, which “empowers girls to be confident makers and creators of technology,” according to the DIY (Do It Yourself) Girls’ website.
On a daily basis, these girls witness homelessness on the streets. They wanted to help the homeless families; however, donating money was not an option for their own low-income families. Despite their inability to contribute money, the girls weren’t about to let this obstacle prevent them from helping those who are less fortunate.
“With all the already existing programs in place to help end homelessness, we felt as if something more needed to be done to provide temporary relief to those who are displaced,” Paola Valtierra said in an email interview. Valtierra is a senior at San Fernando High School, and this will be her second year in the DIY Girls program.
Motivated to help the people in their community, the DIY girls got to work. They came up with the idea to create a solar-powered tent that could also function as a backpack. This one item could efficiently serve multiple needs and conserve space. The team of girls met frequently to work on the solar-powered tent, and a year later, they finished designing their prototype.
At times, the competition in the STEM field was intimidating for young Latina women. Evelyn Gomez, the executive director for DIY girls, recalls her experience at UCLA, getting her master’s degree in aerospace engineering. “I was often the only girl in the class and definitely the only Latina in the class. It felt like kind of imposter syndrome,” Gomez says, describing a feeling of chronic self-doubt even in the midst of evident success.
Nonetheless, the girls were determined to make a difference, regardless of their gender or race. They have not only made a positive impact on their community, but they have been role models for many other girls and have inspired them to pursue their passions.“Remember that there will always be obstacles in life but push through them because the outcome will be worth it,” Valtierra said.
On November 18th, 2017, team School on Wheels participated in a march to end homelessness hosted by United Way of Los Angeles. Our team marched through the streets of downtown Los Angeles to protest along with volunteers, supporters and other nonprofits dedicated to eradicating homelessness.
This was a successful turnout that helped raise awareness for our mission and the plight of homeless children everywhere. We are very appreciative for everyone who supported us in this year’s march and contributed their effort to make this a memorable event. Thank you to everyone for your endless support!
Our Generations Connected initiative, sponsored by a generous grant from the Eisner Foundation, focuses on matching students with older adult volunteers for one-on-one tutoring. These intergenerational matches are an integral part of our program, and they are equally beneficial for students and volunteers. Tutors with more life experience inspire and connect with students and learn from them too.
School on Wheels provides ongoing support for our older volunteers. We also offer quarterly regional meet-ups and special volunteer opportunities for those who want to give more time.