January 28, 2021
On January 19, 2021, we convened with the Honorable Kathleen Sebelius, former US Secretary of Health and Human Services; Rick Garcia, Executive Director for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs; Tony Thurmond, California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction; and our President and CEO Dr. Javaid Siddiqi, to discuss supporting housing and food insecure students during the pandemic. The webinar shared examples of providing students with housing and food across education, housing, and health sectors to support basic needs and foster learning in this environment.
“This pandemic has only exacerbated these real challenges and shined a bright light on what we educators have known for years – we can’t expect a child to be reading on grade level if they are worried about their next meal or if they’re worried about whether or not they have a roof over their heads.”
-Dr. Javaid Siddiqi, President & CEO of The Hunt Institute
The intersections between health, housing and education, and solutions we have seen around the country can help develop holistic approaches to support all aspects of a student’s life as well as families. Javaid noted that different agencies at the state level can come together to strengthen support for students.
“COVID-19 is an extraordinary accelerant poured on the fire of what is harmful and troubling to children in this country. We’ve had schools that are open and shut which causes lots of social and emotional disruption, lots of fears from parents that their kids are going to get sick, and lots of fears from teachers.”
-The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius, Former Secretary of Health and Human Services for the US Department of Health and Human Services
Secretary Sebelius updated attendees with data on education, housing, and unemployment. Early childhood education is one commitment that will help meet the needs of students, not only supporting them financially but providing the expertise for social-emotional needs. Food insecurity is being experienced five and a half times more than in 2018 and there are 20 million children in a household where someone lost a job. There are hungry children who are not good students and cannot learn well, not only because of housing but because they might not have a quiet place to do homework or have opportunities with ongoing learning. Children are struggling at home with technology problems and many teachers were not prepared to pivot to remote learning.
“In the 2018-2019 school year, more than 22,000 children and youth were identified as homeless and we know that this number is going to continue to increase and is at risk of even increasing further because of the public health pandemic and the economic crisis.”
-Rick Garcia, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs
Rick noted that housing and support services can improve personal well-being and academic achievement for students through various partnerships with other state agencies, such as Education and Human Services. He shared the accomplishments of their Pathway to Success program supporting case management with focus on the HUD family unification program by providing vouchers and short term rental services. The state demonstrated a prioritization of housing by supporting 130 housing project-based units and 35 supportive housing tenant-based units. CASA, a court appointed special advocate organization, provides youth who are leaving the welfare system with stable housing. Homelessness ultimately ends when youth have a safe place to call home.
“This pandemic has uncovered a very embarrassing fact for our entire nation – that we have allowed the digital divide to exist for all these years.”
-Tony Thurmond, the Superintendent of Public Instruction in California
Superintendent Thurmond shared how 275,000 students are homeless and the pandemic has accelerated the challenges and opportunity gaps that families are already dealing with. Many families were struggling with basic needs and evictions or job loss before COVID-19, therefore subsidies, the pandemic EBT program, and offering meal programs for the community meets those basic needs in addition to providing PPE, water, hotel, and relocation assistance as needed. California is also striving to meet the social-emotional needs of students with learning and attendance. Education combined with grants should be used to counter hate. Education must double efforts on closing opportunity gaps with the understanding that young people may be contributing to family incomes so school is not a priority. Prior to the pandemic, more than a million students in California did not have computers but the state has created a task force to focus on closing the digital divide, moving hundreds of thousands of computers and devices to students.