Superintendent tackles growing housing crisis | March 10, 2017 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 10, 2017

Superintendent tackles growing housing crisis

With a third of Ravenswood students facing homelessness, Goff persists in finding solutions

by Anna Medina

In the Ravenswood School District, 42 percent of the 3,069 students are homeless, according to recent information compiled by district staff.

"I've never seen anything like this," Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff said. "I've worked with people from migrant camps. I've worked in a lot of different situations as an educator, and this is actually pretty extreme."

Goff, an East Palo Alto resident for over three years who has devoted her career to working in Title I schools and serving low-income communities, said that "homelessness" in East Palo Alto looks different than what people might imagine. Many students live in situations with multiple families to one domicile. Goff said that this often means that people are living in garages or with several families in one home, and then many are consequently evicted.

"What I want people to understand is that it's far more extreme than the concept that people would have in most communities, and I'm even talking about poor communities in the Central Valley," she said.

Who are these homeless parents and their children? Goff said that they make up the service industry — they're the waiters, the waitresses, the cooks, the bus boys, the nannies, the people who "clean your houses and do your gardening," the ones who don't make much above minimum wage, she said.

Many families cope by moving in with relatives or couchsurfing; some parents, Goff said, find places for their children to sleep while they sleep in a car because there's no room for them indoors. The most extreme cases are the families living in vehicles.

"These people can't afford a vice," she said, "They're trying to feed their kids and put a roof over their heads of some kind. ... It's a crisis situation as far as I'm concerned, and each year I've been here, it's only gotten worse."

According to Goff, the issue, which stems from a lack of affordable housing, is going to require counties and cities to work together and look at short-term and long-term solutions, including a regional affordable housing plan. ("And by affordable I don't mean like, 'Oh, make it $2,500.' I mean really affordable to the income levels of the people who work here," she said.)

Until that happens, Goff is trying to ease her students' burdens by making the most of the resources at her disposal.

She and her husband, Duane Goff, run a semiweekly food program through a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank, staffed by community volunteers and parents. Many parents serve the food and also take food home to feed their families. Additionally, Goff has set up a food pantry, and students who participate in the after-school program are served a hot meal.

"We used to just provide a snack in the after-school program," Goff said. "But then I found out that some parents were not eating so they could feed their kids. ... We put a lot of emphasis on the food programs in our district because of that."

Goff is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and take action. On a recent Friday she drove to Weeks Street to show where many families camp in RVs and cars at night.

Goff explained that Weeks, which was flooded due the recent heavy rain, is a relatively good place for people to park because it is a dead-end street surrounded by empty lots. Nevertheless, just before the winter holidays, many who lived there heard that the police were going to be ticketing campers and hauling vehicles away.

"I panicked about that, but then I found out that they wouldn't do that because there's nowhere for (people) to go," Goff said.

As she drove back up Weeks, Goff pointed to some RVs in front of a row of townhomes: "It's harder for them because these people (in the townhomes) will call (the police)," she said.

Goff would like to work out a way to alleviate some of the pressure felt by families living in RVs. One of her ideas involves dedicating a lot located on the school district's property for families who live in campers. She pointed out that the YMCA, which is located just down the street, would be a good place for people to shower and exercise and expressed her hopes to partner with the county library for support for the kids there in the evening.

"So there's a way we could make this a much better situation than what we currently have, although it still will be a precarious housing situation," Goff said, adding that it would hopefully be temporary, while they could work out housing arrangements.

However, Goff's desire to provide a safe location for families to park on district property has not been approved by the school board.

"It is a policy decision that the board has not had a public discussion about; we have to be concerned about liability issues," said Board of Education President Sharifa Wilson.

In the meantime, Goff said that she is continuing to work with community organizations, such as churches, to identify other areas — other than district property — where families can safely park and is looking to ensure that the district is covered under liability insurance for safe parking.

Also in the works is Goff's plan to install heavy duty washers and dryers in every school in the district, something that would alleviate a need for many homeless families.

"Parents can come wash their clothes, and while they're waiting, they can go in and help a teacher, read in the classroom with the kids — just build that culture of being a part of the educational environment for their children," she said.

Currently, the district is obtaining the cost estimate for the project and already has a couple of volunteers who are going to help raise money. Goff sees this as a step toward continuing to build trust and a sense of community.

Wilson praised Goff for her initiative.

"I think she's a fantastic superintendent, one of the best we've ever had," Wilson said. "That's why she's looking at all these options, because she really cares about the children."

Editorial Assistant and Intern Coordinator Anna Medina can be emailed at amedina@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by friend in EPA, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 10, 2017 at 2:18 pm

Yes, this is a huge problem in EPA. BUT Dr. Hernandez Goff needs to leave it to the many, many non-profits and governmental agencies who work with this situation. HER primary job is to see that the students are getting the best possible education, no matter what their housing situation is. She's become totally side-tracked by this issue. Maybe she should resign her post with the District and go to work full-time addressing the homeless issue. Then the District could hire a full-time educator as Superintendent.


Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2017 at 4:37 pm

Friend in EPA:

If the other organizations were sufficient, we wouldn't have this problem. Helping student welfare goes back as far as school lunches. How can a third of students focus on long division and grammar trees when their material needs aren't even met? Heiriarchy of needs


Posted by Marc Vincenti , a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 12, 2017 at 5:06 pm

About two weeks ago, the PBS NewsHour ran a major story on homeless high-school students in Kansas City, reported by education correspondent Lisa Stark.

The story was full of hope, and full of details of how the city. its schools, and multiple community agencies have come together to successfully tackle the problem.

I mention this as something that might be of use to anyone working on this issue.

Marc Vincenti
Chairman, Save the 2,008 -- creating hope for Palo Alto's high-schoolers


Posted by a friend, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 14, 2017 at 12:08 pm

Where's Facebook in all this? EPA is their neighborhood. Mark Zuckerberg and his $56 billion? He drives by these neighborhoods every day on the way to work. He could spend $20 million building housing for the poor in EPA and not even notice a drop in his wealth. Billionaires for Fairness and Justice!


Posted by EPA Neighbor , a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 15, 2017 at 8:28 pm

Dr. Hernandez-Goff was charged with creating "community schools" that served the whole community. The Ravenswood School Board was truly showing leadership when they established that goal and that is what she has done. We could use more leadership like this from our elected officials in EPA.


Posted by EPA, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 15, 2017 at 11:48 pm

EPA should make University Ave a toll road to access the bridge so they could make some money off all the east bay commuters that cut through town everyday. University Ave wasn't designed to handle all that bridge traffic and back in the day University was a dead end and didn't connect to 84.


Posted by member , a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 27, 2017 at 12:19 pm

The problem of 42% of children with living conditions is horrible. My issue is they are not homeless.. They are living with a roof over their heads. May not be ideal but its home. You can't ignore the 58% that don't have this issue. The problem that these schools are having is they are spending more time worrying about the parents eating and washing their clothes. We need to focus on EDUCATION! We need to put teachers back in the classroom who care and relate to the children. Not the ones who want to get their student loans paid off.. Are kids who are a little better off get any programs? What type of help are we offering them? Is the schools doing anything to help them be able to get into WCAL schools or any private schools? Do you have to live in a home of 10 people to get noticed? Do what you were hired to do... Bring QUALITY EDUCATION to all the students!!


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