STOCKTON, Calif. — Schools are closed and distance learning models are in place due to the coronavirus, but for one nearly invisible portion of the student body, closing schools means a drastic change to quality of life.
Mariah's Closet and Stockton 209 CARES are currently putting together hygiene bags for homeless high school students at Cesar Chavez High School in Stockton Unified School District.
Nancy Lamb, the president of Stockton 209 CARES, says that nearly 100 students enrolled at the high school are homeless.
"Last year, there was only 50…I believe it was 54 students that were homeless. As of right now, they have 96 enrolled," Lamb said.
According to Teresa Oden, director of admissions and family services at Stockton Unified, the district currently has approximately 1,401 students identified under the McKinney-Vento Act as homeless. The number fluctuates as families secure permanent housing or elect to discontinue services.
The school district has provided a number of support services to homeless families during the pandemic, including making sure students have access to technology, internet hotspots, and meals during virtual learning. Stockton Unified also provides hygiene products and other clothing, donated from the community.
Stockton's homeless students are ever in need of more, however. Stockton 209 Cares is partnering with Mariah's Closet, started by Mariah Lopez, a senior at Cesar Chavez High School.
The teen was formerly homeless herself and wanted to help students that were stuck in a similar situation.
"Working with Mariah, it's amazing because she's a student that wants to give back," Lamb said.
Mariah and her mom, Jeannie Yang, collect hygiene products and distributes them to fellow students. With COVID-19 creating even more of a disruption to homeless students, Mariah is on the lookout for donations.
“We see kids...in fact, last week we [saw] a kid that has to park in front of the school just for WiFi,” Yang said in an interview with ABC10.
The homelessness issue has trickled down to young students, but Lamb says that in Stockton in general "it is a big problem."
People may not realize just how many resources students are missing out on now that schools are closed. Free meals in the form of breakfast and lunch are one resource that many schools realized was a necessity to continue. Stockton Unified has kept up with meal service during this time through pick-up, though only three days a week.
Other necessities have been put aside, too.
"One of the big things is, you know, being in the schools, you've got the students who don't have access right now to the gym for a shower, you know, with everything going on," Lamb said.
Not only are showers gone, but many schools, including Chavez High, have washer/dryers for the students. Students can use these amenities to have nice clean clothes, not just for school but in general.
For a homeless student, access to these resources is extremely important.
"During the times, like right now, it's not only hard being homeless as a student, but to not have some of the resources that they would have while being in school is even harder," said Lamb.
Lamb said she knows of students who are sleeping in cars. Some are holed up in tents or a nearby shelter. And the number of homeless students in Stockton is only growing.
"Unfortunately, with the times right now, there's a lot more out there," Lamb said.
Because 96 students at Chavez High are homeless, Lamb is hoping to receive 96 donated hygiene bags. The bag will have things like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, of course, but also notebooks and pencils so students can do distance learning to their best ability.