LINKEDINCOMENTARIOSMÁS INFORMACIÓN

Hartnell student Kaylie Hamic was just 11 years old when she entered the foster care system.

"I remember going to school with bruises at the age of 8," Hamic wrote.

After Hamic's mother began using drugs and abusing her children, Hamic and her two siblings were placed in foster care. 

The placement effectively separated the siblings.

Hamic ended up with her paternal grandmother in Gonzalez, Calif., while her younger siblings remain in Kansas, where they lived at the time of the abuse.

After being placed in the foster system Hamic said she suffered from depression, self-harmed and attempted suicide. She credited school with helping her make it through her struggles with mental health.

School was the only place she was safe, she said. She focused all her energy on it.

Now a student at Hartnell College, she's availing herself of the Guardian Scholars program, which provides emotional, financial and educational support to current and former foster youths enrolled in the school.

Through programs such as Guardian Scholars and the Office of Student Life, Hartnell hopes to combat issues such as home or food insecurity among its students. 

According to the National Foster Youth Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for foster youth, roughly 50 percent of youth in foster care earn a high school diploma. High school dropout rates are three times higher for foster youth than any other group of low-income students.

Fewer than three percent go on to earn a college degree, and one in four will experience homelessness within four years of graduating from foster care.

Conversely, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth says two-thirds of adults experiencing homelessness have not earned a high school or college diploma.

Although Hamic never experienced homelessness herself, the issue is prevalent among former foster youths.

Those attending Hartnell are no exception. 

The low rate of high school or college degree completion among foster youth often leads to unemployment, food and home insecurity, evident in some students at Hartnell, Guardian Scholars Program Assistant Savannah Lewis said.

While Guardian Scholars serves just 25-30 students, Lewis knows four or five students in the program who dropped out last semester due to homelessness. 

Students were forced by circumstance to either live in their cars or couch-surf with friends until they wore out their welcome. Often the dropout is temporary while they get their personal lives in order, but it can delay or derail graduation, Lewis said.

"They're in survival mode," Lewis said. "They're worried about where they're going to eat, where they're going to sleep. It keeps them from coming to school. It's an epidemic."

Although former foster youths are high-risk for experiencing homelessness and even trafficking, other students struggle with housing as well, particularly in California, where housing costs are high.

"Academically it absolutely affects them," said Lewis. "They end up dropping out of classes."

According to a 2016 report from the Community College Equity Assessment Lab at San Diego State University, one in three community college students in California struggle with home insecurity, up to and including homelessness.

Hartnell's Office of Student Life surveyed students in the fall of 2017 on their experiences with hunger and homelessness. What they found, said Director of Student Affaris Augustine Nevarez, was that approximately 60 percent of the 1,100 students who took the survey were experiencing food insecurity.

"They might be (going hungry) one, two, three days a week," said Nevarez. 

On the second half of the survey, which had a lower response rate, another 18 percent of respondents indicated they weren't secure in their housing, either. That included people experiencing homelessness, as well as students who were paying so much for housing they weren't sure they'd be able to afford it much longer.

"It's getting harder and harder for our students to afford housing," Nevarez said.

As housing costs have gone up in California, Nevarez said Hartnell had seen students take longer to graduate. 

Not being independent makes it more difficult for students to study, Nevarez said. A crowded house, or having to take on extra work to contribute to their families meant less time to study and less time to study in peace.

In response to the issues with hunger, Nevarez said the campus would support the programs in the area that already run food pantries, such as Guardian Scholars, through a grant.

Guardian Scholars is also looking into building emergency housing, such as tiny homes, that would be available on its Alisal campus for students who find themselves with no place to sleep at night, according to Lewis.

The campus is not looking into building full-on student housing, though, Nevarez said.

L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez, who has reported on housing and homelessness in California for more than a decade, echoed Nevarez's frustrations with the cost of housing.

"Something’s broken when housing prices continue to rise and wages do not," Lopez said. "I think we’re always going to be on the brink of more people becoming homeless, of schools becoming burdened with homeless students and students living in cars. We can talk about what you can do for people today living on the streets, but I think the issues are much bigger."

By investing in institutions that help low-income people such as community colleges, state universities and public schools, he said, California might see a decreased homeless population in the future. 

LINKEDINCOMENTARIOSMÁS INFORMACIÓN
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