A week after the Chronicle called the Stay Over Program at Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 Community School a “costly failure,” the school’s principal forwarded her recommendation to the superintendent that the pilot program be expanded to “serve others.”
“Given that we have been able to meet the needs of our own homeless students and still have space and personnel to serve others, I have recommended to Dr. Matthews that we do open up,” Principal Claudia Delarios Morán wrote in an email sent to families Friday afternoon.
If approved by the Board of Education Tuesday, the joint use agreement that the city and county has with the school district through the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing will be amended.
The amendment would expand access to the emergency-shelter program to eligible homeless students from throughout the San Francisco Unified School District, as well as their families.
Families from Buena Vista Horace Mann expressed mixed reactions in the week leading up to the announcement.
Following a parent meeting for community input at the school last week, some parents reflected on the news at the Velvet Cantina, a nearby bar and restaurant.
“Are we prepared?” said Johanna Lopez Miyaki, a parent who had previously shared her concerns with the Chronicle. “Do we have the resources? How’s this going to impact our school site?”
The program, operated by Dolores Street Community Services in one of the school’s two gyms, will continue to run as usual through June 30, 2019, offering breakfast and dinner every day. The shelter is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays and from 5 p.m. to 10 a.m. on weekends. The nonprofit is also collecting input from families about their experiences, to make adjustments and enhancements to the program.
As of March 1, only seven families have used the Stay Over Program since its soft launch in November. Since the program costs $40,000 per month and can host up to 20 families, or approximately 50 people, opening up availability city-wide could better utilize the resources that are offered daily through Dolores Street Community Services.
As for how outreach throughout the district would work, social workers from other school sites have expressed interest on behalf of their housing-insecure families and could refer them to Dolores Street Community Services or services from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing that best fit their needs.
Other parents wondered why funding wasn’t made available to renovate older facilities on the school’s campus, while funding was made available to this program.
Chris Nickolopoulos, a father of two daughters at the school, said that while it’s great that Buena Vista Horace Mann will be known for having hosted a homeless shelter, “what about everything else we need?”
“Amongst all of us, we all, to varying degrees, fully agree with the idealism of it,” he said.
His wife, Sheila Nickolopoulos, added, “I wish the school were more savvy about leveraging this program to get other stuff that the school really needs.” She added that only one school board member has addressed the facilities issue after a public comment from a parent at a recent school board meeting.
To clarify, the facilities requests and the funds for running the shelter are unrelated to the homeless program.
The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing covers the funding made available to the Stay Over Program, which includes the salaries of the staff who run the program, security, custodial staff and other costs that go toward daily operations. The school district has not contributed any funding to the overnight shelter program.
“There also has to be a way to prioritize Buena Vista families,” said parent Bernice Casey. “If you open the shelter up to everyone, it’s going to fill up and then when a Buena Vista family needs it, what’s the school going to do?”
The principal attached a document to the email sent to families last week that stated, the “final design for maintaining BVHM family priority has not been completed, but is in progress. This needs to be a key feature of opening referrals and we have a commitment from Dolores Street to maintain a level of priority for BVHM families.”
Other similar concerns were echoed among other families, as they waited to pick up their children after school.
Ivan Castro, father of a student at the school, said in Spanish that he felt disappointed because they were primarily sold on the idea that the program would specifically meet the needs of homeless students and their families at Buena Vista Horace Mann.
“Why is the school opening [up the shelter] to other families?” said Patricia, a mother who only shared her first name, in Spanish. “If there weren’t sufficient families, why don’t they just close it?”
She, like other parents, asked why the families weren’t instead offered meal or housing vouchers for apartments or hotels.
District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen shared a similar sentiment to the SF Weekly.
Another mother, who went by Socorro, said, also in Spanish, they were promised that the program was going to be solely utilized to “meet the needs of the students of this school and that is why we do not agree” with expanding it.
In the letter that the principal wrote to the school district superintendent, Dr. Vincent Matthews, and the leadership team, she said, “[…] the program we established to address the housing issues of our students is working so well that all of the families that we identified as needing imminent support are now receiving services.”
Delarios Morán said that of the 59 families who were on their Families and Youth in Transition list (now known as Students & Families Experiencing Homelessness), only 26 were later identified with an imminent housing need.
Of those 26 families whose cases were managed by the wellness team, 19 were referred to Access Points for other housing solutions.
By the end of February, six families used the services from the overnight shelter program – seven families, as of March 1 – to “stave off imminent homelessness.”
While it’s undisputed that the pilot program was an innovative approach to supporting students and families who face homelessness or housing insecurity, the Board of Education will decide the next step at Tuesday’s meeting: whether or not to extend the resources of the Stay Over Program at Buena Vista Horace Mann to other families within the school district.