“Leaving no one behind” is a key priority of the 2030 Agenda. Using the lens of the Sustainable Development Goals, our work focused on understanding the barriers to educational attainment for students living in motel housing in an area of Los Angeles known as the ‘Sepulveda Corridor,’ as depicted below using census tracts from the University of Southern California Price Center for Social Innovation’s platform Neighborhood Data for Social Change.
We defined three deliverables for our ten-week project, with the overall goal of contributing to the city’s understanding of the linkages between homelessness, educational access, student empowerment, and intergenerational poverty. Our work focused specifically on housing insecure students residing in motels along the Sepulveda Corridor. Our deliverables included:
1. A special report on the barriers that unhoused students experience that impede educational success and their ability to escape intergenerational poverty
2. Best practices to inform the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity’s work focusing both on the Sepulveda Corridor and throughout Los Angeles
3. Posters and communications materials that can destigmatize homelessness and increase service provision
All research was conducted remotely due to the Coronavirus pandemic, which limited our ability to directly connect with families and students living along the Corridor. Client-focused input and engagement is critical to validate our findings, and we recommend completing this work in the future. We were fortunate enough though to engage directly with several service providers, including Mayor Garcetti’s Senior Education Advisor, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Homeless Education Office, New Economics for Women, and North Valley Caring Services.
Our client, the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity (MOEO), in partnership with the Office of City Council President Nury Martinez and multiple service providers, developed the Sepulveda Corridor Demonstration Project to provide intensive support services for families who are temporarily sheltered. Sepulveda is a major boulevard in the San Fernando Valley where many families have sought housing in motels along the Corridor. Of these families, 66% do not speak English at home, and 65.5% are not naturalized U.S. citizens.
Ultimately, the aim of the Demonstration Project is to bolster families’ resiliencies and connect them with services to transition into permanent housing, while also improving the educational outcomes of their children. The Demonstration Project is capturing metrics, which include school attendance, access to school-based services and support, and levels of support for the learning and academic achievements of students.
What did we do?
Focusing on these metrics for student success, we identified three areas where policy and service-based interventions can have a positive impact: (1) increasing and demonstrating the importance of parent engagement in school, (2) addressing the negative impact of proximity trauma, and (3) removing barriers to the enrollment and attendance of unhoused students.
First, we found that parent engagement is integral to the academic success of a child. Unhoused families experience layered inequality that impede parental (or caregiver) engagement, including a lack of institutional trust in the school system, lower levels of maternal education, language barriers, and citizenship status. Through our research, we found that the Demonstration Project could counter these barriers with inter-generational wraparound services, along with consistent home visits that build trust between families, service providers, and the school system.
Second, for students to achieve success, special attention should be given to the trauma resulting from housing insecurity. Our research shows that for children, the accumulation of trauma can impede cognitive development, decrease academic performance, and increase the frequency of behavioral incidents. Thus, special attention should be directed towards implementing trauma counselling for unhoused students. This will help students build support networks and develop productive coping mechanisms. It is important that these counseling services include strategies to deal with intersectional issues including racial trauma and linguistic isolation.
Lastly, we found that the attendance and enrollment of unhoused students is negatively impacted by a lack of funding for school transportation, housing instability in conjunction with cross-district coordination, the need for families to self-identify as experiencing homelessness, and unsympathetic anti-truancy policies. To minimize the impact of these barriers, we recommend expanding non-permanent housing programs and developing community partnerships with business organizations to generate career exploration and educational development opportunities.
These findings are captured in our final report, which examines the intersecting factors that influence academic success, access, and engagement for unhoused students.
Our team identified other best practices that may be of use for the Demonstration Project in the future:
First, create awareness within school personnel to destigmatize homelessness, and to ensure families experiencing homelessness know how to access the types of wraparound services that can support student success. We created a mock-up outreach campaign to spread awareness about the provisions of the McKinney Vento Act, as many families miss out on benefits simply due to misconceptions about their rights and housing status.
Second is to use the Neighborhood Data for Social Change (NDSC) platform (an online resource created by the USC Sol Price Center for Innovation) to better define and visually layer data for neighborhoods along the Sepulveda Corridor. Using census tract data, we were able to show the differences in language use, socioeconomic status, and immigration status along the Corridor. The City and other service providers should tailor future outreach and policy recommendations based on these demographic considerations.
As we concluded this project in August 2020, LAUSD announced it would shift to fully remote learning for the start of the 2020-2021 school year due to COVID-19. Parents experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness are often not in a position to provide their children with a quiet work space, reliable internet access, or a device for remote learning. Compounding this, many parents along the Corridor are essential workers who cannot afford to leave their children at home and may be forced to rely on older children to take care of siblings who are not in school. The inherent inequities of online learning will significantly and disproportionately impact unhoused students, who already experience barriers to educational success. Service providers and city policymakers must find ways to draw on the lived experience of these residents and increase support through this time, fostering family and student empowerment through education. It is imperative that nations and cities across the world mobilize to build resilience and protect our most vulnerable communities.
The SDGs are a powerful framework for us to understand the cycles of intergenerational poverty and student homelessness in Los Angeles. But, actually doing the work — ensuring that nobody is left behind — is on all of us.