Santa Ana Partnership Offers Hope for Homeless Students

Santa Ana Partnership Offers Hope for Homeless Students
A homeless individual sleeps on the streets of Santa Ana, Calif., on Sept. 4, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Vanessa Serna

Santa Ana Unified School District is partnering with a nonprofit organization to provide services to children and teens experiencing homelessness during the current school year.

Project Hope Alliance (PHA) received a $150,000 community development grant from the City of Santa Ana that will go toward helping 50 students experiencing homelessness at Martin R. Heninger School.

Jennifer Friend, chief executive of the nonprofit, said the funding could be a lifeline for students who were forced to grow up fast during the pandemic.

“During COVID, many of our kids are working to actually help pay for motel rent, or food for their families” Friend told The Epoch Times. “Even though they’re the child, they’re contributing to the parental family household.”

Before the pandemic, PHA had an 84 percent graduation rate, with 60 percent of its participants immediately enrolling in college.

The pandemic decreased that percentage as many teens took on other responsibilities, Friend said.

A majority of the youth involved in PHA live in motels, shelters, one-bedroom apartments with multiple families, or places that aren’t meant for habitation.

“There are a lot of kids who have lost parents to COVID, and so the work that we’re doing couldn’t be more critical or more necessary to ensure that our kids are cared for and supported,” Friend said.

The grant will fund a full-time case manager, and training on how to identify students experiencing homelessness in Santa Ana, where one in four students live in poverty, Friend said.

Case managers are assigned to identify and enroll students experiencing homelessness into a program that helps eliminate the barriers homelessness causes. The goal, officials said, is to enable such students to succeed academically.

Students enrolled in the program will receive support to deal with social and emotional traumas as well as basic services such as food, hygiene products, and clothing.

“Eradicating the cycle of poverty involves addressing the underlying issues of homelessness,” Santa Ana Unified School District Superintendent Jerry Almendarez said in a statement.

“We are hopeful that through this partnership with Project Hope Alliance, we can expand our efforts to provide a multi-tiered system of support for our students.”

The program also prepares students to graduate high school and enroll in college or vocational training programs, which allows them to be financially independent and end generational homelessness, Friend said.

“A student that has not graduated from high school is almost 400 percent more likely to be homeless as an adult,” she said.

PHA has helped more than 1,500 young people throughout Orange County who have experienced homelessness during the pandemic.