What is Homelessness?
One of the crucial questions to ask when discussing homelessness is what defines homelessness. There are many different aspects to consider when generalizing the term “homeless”. Homelessness can mean a variety of different things when considering the living circumstances of people. According to the Student Transition Educational Program [S.T.E.P], a person who is homeless lacks a regular, fixed, and stable nighttime residence. An irregular nighttime residence would include: living in a car, “doubled up” or sharing housing with others due to the loss of housing, economic hardships, living in motels, trailer parks, or camping due to the lack of alternative accommodations, living in public places or parks or abandoned buildings, and other similar situations. Unaccompanied Youth are youth who are not in the physical custody of their parent or guardian and are living in any of the situations defined as “homeless”.
Possible Indicators for Those Who May be Homeless
- Chronic hunger and/or tiredness
- Enrollment at many different schools
- Inconsistent school attendance or tardiness
- Grooming and personal hygiene issues
- Consistently comes to school without homework, books, supplies, or signed papers
- Incompatible clothing for the current season or incorrect sized clothing
- Mentions staying with family, friends or not sure where they are stay on future night
What is S.T.E.P?
S.T.E.P is a program that provides educational opportunities that enable students without a home and unaccompanied youth to achieve academic success. Those who fall under one of the criterias of a “homeless” situation is eligible to receive aid from this program. S.T.E.P stems from the McKinney-Vento Act was created to protect the educational rights of youth and children experiencing homelessness. According to the S.T.E.P. program, there were 1150 students who participated in S.T.E.P. that were from the Salem-Keizer Public Schools from 2015-2016 alone.
At the end of each school year, S.T.E.P closes all of their cases and start anew for the next school year. Students who would like to continue using their services need to reapply every year. Over the course of the years, there has been a steady incline of students participating in the program.
“The fact that the number of people who are a part of the program is constantly growing, which is a good thing but those are just the people that we have identified so far,” Auerial Valencia, a S.T.E.P youth advocate, said. “ For me, it makes me see students who are struggling in a new way. There is a reason for why they may be acting out.”
Salem-Keizer currently has approximately 600 students who are in the program and roughly 40 students at South uses these resources. For every 50 students, one of them is homeless. That is a rough estimate of how many student are affected at South.
“Before you can be functional at school you need all of these personal things to take care of in order to be successful,” Michelle Howard, a behavioral specialist at South, said.
S.T.E.P works towards eliminating obstacles that may prevent students from attending school. Services that the program offers are ensuring that the student is enrolled, identified, and attending school, monitoring grades and attendance, access to academic support (tutors, credit recovery, graduation support), provide school supplies and backpacks (if available) refer students to other resources and programs as well, and provide transportation via school bus or public buses. The program hopes to remove these obstacles so students will be able to focus on their education rather than worrying about other challenges such as transportation, food services, clothes, etc.
How S.T.E.P Left Their Mark on Amanda Zuniga
Amanda Zuniga, a Salem Keizer graduate from 2012, was part of the S.T.E.P program and helped develop a support group of sorts. Davida, Lindsey, and Zuniga worked together to create this group.
“An important aspect was that we wanted them to feel empowered too by giving back to the community showing that even if you are struggling that you still have the power to do good for others,” Zuniga said.
They wanted to create a safe, fun, and inviting place for kids to come hang out after school where they can eat snacks and talk about life. Davida and Zuniga initially began with inviting a couple of their friend who were also experiencing similar struggles and asking if they had any friends who would also like to participate. Some immediate impacts that Zuniga experienced from this group were “having a network of people to talk to and also the feeling of not being alone.” The support groups were able to create an atmosphere where people were able to receive help when needed such as food, clothes, or simply needing a shoulder to cry on.
“When you’re a teen it’s hard to see past high school, but having that support allows us to see the future beyond our situations. We all have definitely overcome our situations. One of us excelled in honors with a Bachelors at Western!” Zuniga said.
From S.T.E.P, Zuniga was able to form bonds with her peers from high school that extended to college. Although they are not as close due to going their separate ways, they still catch up with each other now and then and they are still people whom she can turn to if she needed it.
HOME Youth and Resource Center
Located on 625 Union St. NE Salem OR 97301, the center provides a safe, supportive environment where at-risk homeless youth may have their immediate needs met and have opportunities to reconnect with their community. Youth must be 11-17 years old or 18 if they are working towards a GED or HS. They are open daily from 12-7pm and they provide lunch, snacks, dinner, showers, clothing, toiletries, laundry, phone, and caring adults according to their flyer. There are also activities available such as games, computers, community service, crafts, and sports.
Youth Empowerment Program [YEP]
YEP is a skill-based and financial education where they help connect at-risk youth with their community. The four major programmatic elements that the program provides according to their flyer are internship positions, financial literacy, workshops and field trips, and aftercare: planning for success. Depending on the internship youth may receive a stipend, wage and or school credit in addition to certifications.
Runaway Homeless Youth Program (RHY)
The program connects youth and their families to resources that meet their immediate needs and they also provide mediation and counseling resources for family reunification. Their services include: law enforcement and run reports, school district referrals, street outreach [to build relationships with homeless youth in hopes that they can access HOME day shelter services], and case management [continuing to build relationships with youth on an individual basis and creating a plan to build a healthy and safe future for youth].
Salem Free Medical Clinic provides care for those without medical insurance or if they only have emergency insurance. Individuals can make appointments and receive aid for: chiropractic, asthma/allergy, cardiac, diabetic, dietary, headache, mental health. Neurosurgery consult, orthopedics, physical therapy, and more.
Lancaster Family Medical Center provides treatment for acute and chronic illnesses, sport physicals, prenatal/postpartum exams, and family planning. Northwest human services provides medical, mental, and dental care for those who are of low-income or may need free medical assistance.