Employees and friends of the Mendocino County Office of Education (MCOE) supported more than 250 homeless youth in Mendocino County during their holiday gift drive this year. MCOE Superintendent Michelle Hutchins said, “We are especially grateful to the heroic efforts of Tracy and Brent Schultz who organized and sponsored 40 kids this year.”
Year-round, MCOE coordinates educational resources for the hundreds of foster youth and homeless youth in the county, and each winter, MCOE employees host a gift drive so these children can have a little something special during the holidays, according to MCOE Foster/Homeless Youth Services Manager Blythe Post. This year, MCOE received corporate support from Realty World Selzer Realty and Redwood Title Company.
Post said, “People become homeless for many different reasons—the loss of a job, a catastrophic illness, mental health problems—and the children suffer as a result.”
Homeless youth struggle for many reasons. They have inadequate housing that does not meet their physical and psychological needs. They lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, which can mean living on the street, living out of a car, living with several families in one small apartment or residence, living in structures without electricity or running water (camping), or living in emergency or transitional shelters. Some homeless youth live with their parents; others are “couch surfers,” Post explained.
This lack of consistent housing can require some homeless students to move several times during the course of a single school year, making it hard for them to create lasting relationships. According to Post, these children often feel invisible at school and struggle academically because of social and emotional stressors, as well as inconsistent school attendance.
At MCOE, the Foster/Homeless Youth Services connects schools, social services, community agencies, and resources from the faith community so these children do not fall through the cracks. Post helps educate school counselors, teachers, family liaisons, social workers, and others about how best to meet the needs of these underserved youth, from practical advice on reducing bureaucratic barriers to school enrollment to training people about the effects of trauma on the developing brain.
The holidays can be a particularly tough time for at-risk youth. Post explained that homeless students often become more aware of what they are lacking and when friends at school share holiday plans that involve gifts and family gatherings for holiday meals. This was the inspiration for the MCOE gift giving.
Superintendent Hutchins said, “If we can make the holidays a little brighter for these children, we’ve done a good thing.”
Photo Caption: “Foster Youth Educational Specialist Christa Schultz, Foster/Homeless Services Manager Blythe Post, and Family Outreach Program As