Homeless in Cedar Mill
Sunset High’s Homeless Students
By Virginia Bruce
Surprising as it may be to most of us, there are homeless students attending almost every school within the Beaverton School District (BSD). In fact, two years ago Sunset High School had the highest population of homeless high school students in BSD. District-wide there are 861 homeless students so far this year.
Students can become homeless for any number of reasons. Many families live just one disaster away from losing their housing. Some students are escaping intolerable home situations brought on by parental drug use or mental illness. Some kids “age out” of the foster care system at 18 before they are able to finish high school. Homeless teens can be found in motels, crashing on friends’ couches, in shelters, living in cars or trailers, and even “camping” in parks.
Today’s housing crisis and economic downturn will undoubtedly lead to an increase in this population. As people lose their jobs and homes are foreclosed, rentals become harder to find and harder to afford. It really doesn’t take much imagination to see how students can become the innocent victims of circumstances beyond their control.
Lisa Mentesana and Mary Metheney, the BSD Homeless and Social Support Liasons, provide help to homeless students throughout the district. Funded by the district’s Title 1 budget, the program can provide help to ensure that students get the education they’re entitled to. From transportation, school supplies and clothing, through community awareness and outreach to teachers and staff within the schools, Lisa and Mary do what they can to ensure school success to these kids in transition.
The McKinney-Vento Act is a federal law first passed in 1987 that was re-authorized in 2002 and provides rights to homeless students. These include the right to go to school, no matter where they live or how long they have lived there; the right to attend their “home school” if feasible—that is the school they attended before becoming homeless; the right to enroll and begin school immediately, even if they don’t have all the records usually required to enroll; and the right to fully participate in all the programs and receive all the services available to other students.
The Cedar Mill Business Association is going to be sponsoring several efforts throughout the coming year to help. Our May 12 meeting will feature a presentation on this subject. There are also opportunities for others in the community to support these kids and give them a chance to finish high school. To offer help in any of these areas, contact Lisa or Mary for more information (see below).
Businesses can help by providing a range of work opportunities to students. Internships and job shadows can help kids explore career options. One homeless student who is interested in sports and marketing was given the opportunity to job-shadow a Nike employee during Spring Break. Paid work or non-paid work experience (after school, weekends and summer) with employers who can be flexible and understanding of the special problems encountered by these kids is always needed and very much appreciated.
Boys and Girls Aid Society (BGAS) runs a Transitional Living program where a host family provides room and board for up to 16 months for a student (aged 18-23) while they complete school. Financial compensation is offered to the family.
Support for activities
Most extra-curricular activities are offered on a “pay to participate” basis these days. Sports, drama, and other activities can be the inspiration for a youth to stay in school. Without financial support, it’s impossible for homeless students. Anyone can sponsor a student by paying the fees for their activity and/or helping to pay for the other associated costs like costumes for drama or shoes for athletics.
Clothing and supplies
Clothing and shoes—in good condition and appropriate for high school students—are always needed. Donations are accepted at the BSD Clothes Closet, located at the District office at 16550 SW Merlo Rd, Beaverton.
Gift certificates for retail shops are extremely welcome so the students can select new items. We all know how important personal appearance is to teenagers! Do you have one in a drawer that you haven’t gotten around to using?
School supplies, personal items such as toiletries, unneeded electronic equipment can all help these kids succeed. One local computer repair company is donating a case of calculators from a past promotion.
Medical and dental care
While there are programs to provide urgent care, if every dentist and medical practitioner could assist one student each year, it would mean a lot to the students. Lisa recalls seeing a student who appeared to be in pain. He finally admitted that he’d had a bad toothache for six months, but he didn’t know that he could get any help. It’s hard to pay attention in class when your jaw aches.
Libraries generally have a time limit for use of public computers. Imagine trying to finish a term paper when you can only work an hour at a time. After-school and weekend time on an internet-enabled computer can help these kids get their homework done.
Personal connection with a caring adult can really make a difference. The Social Services Program will match up willing adults who can be there for these kids. It doesn’t take a big time commitment, just someone who will take an interest in these individuals. In the best of circumstances, high school is a stressful time for kids. Imagine trying to face it without a place to call home.
For more information about how you or your business can help, contact Lisa Mentesana at 503-591-4462 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Mary Metheney, 503-591-4186, email@example.com