Guest post by School on Wheels Ambassador Victor Maldonado
There are enough children without homes in Los Angeles to fill Dodger Stadium. Yet, when we think of homelessness, children aren’t who we typically imagine. With over 65,000 students without homes in Los Angeles County alone, why does child homelessness go so grossly unnoticed? The answer is simple: out of sight, out of mind. These are children who are living in shelters, motels, group foster homes, vehicles, and on the streets. The common thread that connects these children is a lack of consistent education.
I am proud to volunteer with an organization that bridges these gaps in education, giving children experiencing homelessness a fighting chance at a stable life—School on Wheels. Their approach may seem modest: tutor a child for one hour per week. However, the impact on that child’s life is incalculable—it provides these children with the structure and consistency they need. That hour reiterates to them that they aren’t forgotten, that they do matter, and that they can change their circumstances.
And once a child believes in themselves, the hope and optimism they carry is truly inspirational. In January 2018 a student of mine was struck in the crossfire of a drive-by. In the weeks following, I recall trying to be sympathetic to his condition by telling him we could just play games until he felt better. Knowing he had the SATs coming up, he responded, “Games won’t get me into college. We’ll work on math sections.” To contextualize things, this was a student who, not even a year prior, would constantly vocalize that he might as well “pick out a box to live in now” because he felt he had no chance of attending college. It was at that precise moment that I realized how much of an impact that hour a week can have on the self-esteem of a child in need.
School on Wheels is the only non-profit organization in Southern California that focuses on the education of children experiencing homelessness. As such, its’ success, as well as the success of the children it serves, is directly related to its number of volunteers. Sadly, that number is often limited by people’s misconceptions on whether they’re “qualified” to volunteer. In reality, the only obstacle is a person’s willingness to volunteer.
Regardless of your age, background or level of education, your mere presence in a child’s life can be transformative. They will never forget that someone cared enough to show up once a week during the most turbulent time of their lives. Get started today.
Thousands of families experience homelessness on any given night in America, leaving many children stricken by the grief of instability and unpredictability. There is a saying in Skid Row, “homeless but not hopeless.” But where does your hope come from if you’re the mother of four young, energetic children crammed in a motel room suitable for one or two people? How do you survive days when your kids go to bed hungry? Where does your hope come from when you’re an 8-year-old child whose only concept of home includes a revolving door?
A recent four-part series by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez on child poverty, especially as it relates to education, provides a painfully clear window into the lives of these children. The short film that starts the series is especially powerful, and a must watch for anyone who wants to understand the daily stress and trauma these children face.
I wish we lived in an America where homelessness didn’t exist; where kids could go to school without worrying about where they will sleep at night or if they will have enough food; where kids wouldn’t take on the burdens of adulthood. An America where kids could be kids – laughing, running, jumping, learning – the way they were meant to be.
So what can we do? We can start by speaking up, advocating for change, and accepting nothing less. Our friends need us, and we must deliver.
To view/read the full series:
Part 1: Hidden in L.A. suburbia, wrenching poverty preys on children and destroys dreams
Part 2: For the principal with the most homeless students in L.A., the reality of poverty is personal
Part 3: Whether home is a van, a motel or a garage, L.A.’s suburban poor children learn to survive
Part 4: For children trapped in poverty, breaking free is getting harder
In a recent interview with Selena Rivera of Hoy our CEO Catherine Meek shared the core mission of School on Wheels and the challenges faced by the students we serve.
Currently more than 345,000 homeless children reside in California, and nearly 65,000 of them are enrolled in Los Angeles County schools. Many of these children live in motels, shelters and even cars.
Due to their unstable economic status, they often change areas, which makes it difficult for them to attend school.
And then how can these children get the education they need?
This is where Schools on Wheels (SOW), in Spanish “Escuelas Rodantes”, take action, says Catherine Meek, executive director of the nonprofit organization.
“They are helped with backpacks, with supplies, they are registered in the schools and if they can not attend, they are given tutoring, but not only that. The main commitment of the organization is to give it hope, “says Meek. Since the recession began in 2007, the numbers of homeless children has increased and the need for more volunteers is critical.
Read the full article at Hoy Los Angeles.
A recent in-depth article by La Opinión highlights the many challenges faced by the students that School on Wheels serves, right now more than ever.
In the midst of the housing crisis experienced by thousands of people in Los Angeles County, there are approximately 17,258 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) who do not have a permanent home to live in, and 69% of them ( 11,908) belong to families of Latin origin: 5,834 women and 6,073 men.
And, according to the California Homeless Youth Project, as homelessness in the “Golden State” intensifies, the number of homeless children continues to rise. Since 2014, the number of homeless youth in California has increased by 20 percent to more than 202,329. This represents almost 4% of the school population in general.
“Many children live in hotels, cars, shelters or flee from domestic violence and that is why some are not with their parents; sometimes they get delayed with their studies and that’s why tutors come to help them, “said Lisette Gaeta, regional administrator of School on Wheels. “Here we seek to provide stability to homeless students in a time of stress and transition, and we help them achieve educational success so they can break the cycle of homelessness and poverty”.
Read the full article at La Opinión.
“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.
Friends and Supporters,
I hear a lot of people asking what can we do to combat the racism, ignorance and hatred exhibited on the streets, in leadership positions and in the hearts of many who live in our country. Over 80 percent of our students are children of color; 53 percent are of Hispanic heritage. And they are afraid. Many are used to fear, anxiety and stress – they experience those feelings every single day because they are homeless. They are used to being bullied, shamed and ridiculed.
We must let our students and their families know that the actions unfolding in places like Charlottesville are unacceptable and not reflective of who we are as a community. At School on Wheels, we value diversity, inclusion and equality. We deplore and condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis in the strongest terms. We affirm our commitment to serving the most vulnerable and fragile among us – homeless children.
We must not be defeated by bigotry and ignorance. In the midst of all this sorrow, darkness and anger, we can stand up, speak out and remind ourselves that in our School on Wheels community, we have thousands of people who believe that love and truth will win out. I am inspired by the courage our students display every day just to go to school, the generosity of our supporters and friends who sustain us, and the precious time and dedication our volunteers give to our students.
There is much work to be done, and we need your help to do it. So if someone asks you, “What can we do to help, to uphold our shared values, to demonstrate love and kindness?” tell them to use their energy and power to support organizations like School on Wheels. We can make a huge difference in the life of a homeless child. This is what we can do.