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SDCOE Leads Statewide Support for Students Experiencing Homelessness

All educators play a role in making sure students experiencing homelessness are supported, but it’s homeless education liaisons at county offices of education and districts that focus their time on connecting students and families to resources and with services they need to survive and thrive.

For many, this work is done in addition to other responsibilities but is often the work that weighs most heavily on them. Where are the children going? Will they eat? Have they slept today?         

With nearly 185,000 students identified as experiencing homeless during the 2020-21 school year in California and more than 19,000 students in San Diego County, providing support to county offices and districts who serve these students is critical.

SDCOE along with the Contra Costa and Los Angeles county offices of education (COE) are in year two of a three-year grant awarded by the California Department of Education to create the California Homeless Education Technical Assistance Center (HETAC) network. HETAC provides support and technical assistance to county offices of education, local educational agencies, and other educational partners to ensure educational access and success for children and youth experiencing homelessness.

The HETAC network develops training, webinars, and conferences, as well as issue briefs, tools, templates, and other resources, and shares best practices with all county offices of education in the state.

“A large part of our work is focused on providing individualized technical assistance so we can respond to each county office of education liaison’s unique needs,” said Alejandra Chamberlain, director of Youth Services at the Contra Costa County Office of Education. “If we can help with some of the more time-consuming pieces of being a liaison such as developing templates or forms, looking up Education Code or connecting another liaison to an existing resource, ultimately, we hope it will allow the COE liaisons more time to focus on building their local networks and local educational agency liaison capacity.”

Each lead county office of education provides direct support to multiple COEs in their region, but all resources and best practices are shared statewide.

Susanne Terry, homeless education services coordinator, is leading this work on behalf of SDCOE. She has been working in support of students and families experiencing homelessness or in foster care for more than 25 years.

During the grant’s first year, Terry worked with SDCOE’s Media and Creative Services team to create a new website for HETAC, which houses resources, materials, and information for all regions in the state.

While the COEs collaborate on creating materials and resources, each one leads work on several large projects, such as the website. The Los Angeles County Office of Education will coordinate the HETAC conference next year, and the Contra Costa County Office of Education is coordinating monthly webinars. Each office lead is also sharing a best practice involving collaboration with a community agency that has worked well in their regions.

Terry is excited about sharing with other county offices the work she has done to build cross-system collaborations in San Diego County to benefit homeless youth as co-founder of the San Diego Youth Homelessness Consortium.

In addition to the conference next year, there will be monthly webinars and more resources will be created to support districts. The network is also in the process of awarding three subgrants for pilot projects whose work will help inform the field.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to build connections among the county office of education homeless liaisons within our region and some of the new ideas and collaborations that will develop,” Chamberlain said.

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