State leaders discuss options for students experiencing homelessness during summer

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – For thousands of children experiencing homelessness across our state, school is a safe haven, a roof over head, and the only place they can get things like food and air conditioning. But while class is out for the summer, those children are out of crucial resources. 

A state Public Education Department spokesperson told KOB 4 the number of students identified as homeless during this past school year is 9,518.

“What we know is it’s a much bigger problem than we have documented because the definition of homelessness is so much broader than just being unhoused or on the street,” responded Jennifer Ramo, the founder and executive director of New Mexico Appleseed.

She went on to explain homelessness can mean overcrowded housing, couch-surfing, not having utilities or living in a hotel—all things that make children even more vulnerable than they are already. That’s why her organization works with state lawmakers and school districts to find struggling students, then find solutions.

“We’re trying to get all the schools in the state to just do a quick screener for kids every year, to see what they’re what they’re dealing with,” Ramo said. “It’s really important that they are not shying away from this critical data.”

Ramo said surveys used to go out with free lunch forms, but with all school lunches set to be free statewide, she worries it will be even harder to keep track of students’ needs.

She also said different school districts have different ways of approaching student homelessness. For example, in the Village of Cuba—one of the most at-risk school districts in New Mexico—students and their families have access to free clothes, shoes, food and toiletries on campus.

“People don’t realize how much schools provide for kids,” Ramo said. “Kids are getting food at school, they’re getting shelter, proper heating, air conditioning.”

But during the summer months, most of those resources are unavailable.

A PED spokesperson sent the following statement to KOB 4, encouraging struggling students to participate in school summer programs:

“School is a safe space for children and youth experiencing homelessness because they have systems and support, have help navigating community resources and their most basic needs are met, including food, clothing, hygiene products, laundry facilities, showers, etc. The school year runs from July 1 – June 30, so students experiencing homelessness are encouraged to participate in any summer programming that the school district/state charter school has to offer. School district/state charter schools are also encouraged to waive/cover all educationally related costs so that students experiencing homelessness have the same opportunities to participate in these educational opportunities as their stably housed peers.”

Ramo said she worries what is offered currently is not enough.

“There just isn’t a lot—I mean, really the only thing that’s available are summer feeding programs,” she said. “I think people don’t understand how awful the situation is in our state.”

She said bringing more attention to the problem is the first important step to developing a solution.