Merced district supplies meals, transportation, clothing and school supplies to needy students

During an average school year, the Merced City School District assists between 100 and 150 children who are homeless. In many cases, homeless students and their families are reluctant to step forward and receive help.

Doug Collins, director of the district’s Pupil Services Department, said the district tries to resolve transportation issues, supplies breakfast and lunch to qualifying pupils and provides them with backpacks, clothing, shoes, binders, note paper and school supplies.

Collins said educators want to address anything that’s a barrier for a student being in school. The number of homeless students stays fairly consistent from year to year but can fluctuate at certain times.

Homelessness affects all grade levels, Collins said. The problem seems more prevalent at central Merced schools rather than ones in north Merced. The McKinley-Vento program, which provides the dollars to help the homeless, was enacted in 1987 and is federally funded.

“There probably are some out there in that situation who don’t want people to know,” Collins said. “The family makes a declaration and the school office notifies my office. This is confidential and there’s no shame in that.”

Elida Silva, the homeless facilitator in Collins’ office, said she makes sure everybody has the essentials. There are a wide range of students who apply for McKinley-Vento funding.

Some families may have lost their homes due to economic problems, and some families may be living with other families. Foster children also fall into this category, Silva said.

Greg Blount, the district’s director of information technology and support services, supervised the homeless program before Collins assumed that role. Blount said the district doesn’t want anybody to fall through the cracks and he’s glad the program is there to accommodate those needs.

RoseMary Parga Duran, district superintendent, said identifying homeless children is the hard part, and they have to step forward to receive services. The district’s No. 1 goal is making sure students are fed, ready to learn and regularly attend school.

For more information about services available to homeless students, call the Merced City School District at (209) 385-6600.