Buena Vista Horace Mann. Photo by Jennifer Cortez

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.”

To demonstrate, the figure above, provided by Delarios Morán, reveals the cumulative data that the Stay Over Program has completed through the end of February.

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.

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  1. I am a parent of a 3rd grader at Buena Vista Horace Mann and I wholeheartedly support the expansion of this shelter. I am also a 25 year mission resident. There have been times in my life here in San Francisco where I was one paycheck or speculative landlord away from homelessness. My mother was a single mom who had to rely on shelters and church food distribution to remove her children from an abusive situation. Extraordinary times in this city call for extraordinary measures. And no one else (looking at you London Breed) was stepping up to help these people. I am fiercely proud of our school, our community and the overwhelming number of teachers at BVHM who support this shelter.

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    1. I too am scared of homelessness everyday. I too was raised by a single mom, and I too have been a single parent. I know the fear people live with. My situation is precarious, and I could be out on the streets any day. That said, for countless reasons the gym is NOT an appropriate place to have a shelter. There are other options, that would save money, and more importantly provided a safer option for children experiencing homelessness. There is a better way than this.

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      1. Gym floor or street? Which is more appropriate? Because I don’t see anyone else trying to handle this situation. The idea of voucher for hotels is a ridiculous use of funds. You burn through money with nothing to show for it and no way to continue to care for the homeless students that will follow. This is an ongoing crisis and hotel vouchers are a costly band-aid solution.

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  2. The following is a statement signed by 49 staff members at BVHM. Please include this in your article. :

    Familias y comunidad de BVHM:

    En noviembre de 2017, el personal de BVHM mandaron una carta a casa informando a las familias y la comunidad de nuestrx apoyx a la creación de un programa de refugio de emergencia en nuestra escuela. Gracias a nuestro liderazgo valiente y los esfuerzos heroicos de nuestra administración y trabajador social, conseguimos por fin abrir nuestras puertas un año después en noviembre 2018. Debido a la creación del programa de refugio, la ciudad pudo conectarse con las familias directamente para ofrecerles condiciones de hogar aun mejores que nuestro refugio de emergencia. Esto significa que nuestro esfuerzo logró que nuestras familias pudieran tener vivienda en vez de dormir en nuestro gimnasio.

    Estamos muy orgullosos de nuestros empleados quienes han comprometido mucho tiempo y esfuerzo incontable en traerles estabilidad a la vida de nuestras familias con más necesidad. Por eso, estamos decepcionados con el artículo reciente publicado en el “Chronicle” que quiso girar el éxito de nuestro programa reclamado que fue un fracaso y un gasto de dinero. Los empleados de BVHM están completamente en desacuerdo con la publicación y se nos hace irrespetuoso. Cuando una escuela pública humilde con recursos limitados decide abrir sus puertas a los más vulnerables porque el liderazgo político en esta ciudad rica ha fallado en hacerlo, debemos ser celebrados y apoyados no acusados.

    BVHM es un líder en San Francisco en crear el primer programa de refugio de emergencia en una escuela. Ahora que hay espacio disponible en el refugio, debemos estar orgullos que podemos ofrecerlo a otros en tiempo de necesidad. No es dinero malgastado cuando ayudamos a nuestras familias salir de la calle. En las próximas semanas habrán discusiones en nuestra escuela y en el distrito para expandir el programa. Le pedimos su apoyo por nuestro programa de refugio de emergencia y que estén de acuerdo con expandir el programa para apoyar a otras escuelas en el distrito.

    Gracias por su tiempo y consideración, ¡La lucha sigue!


    Los empleados de BVHM
    Families and community of BVHM,

    In November of 2017, the staff at BVHM sent a letter home informing families and the community about our support for the creation of an emergency shelter program at our site. Thanks to the courageous leadership and heroic efforts of our administration and social worker, we managed to finally open the site a year later in November 2018. Due to the creation of a shelter, the City was able to connect with families directly and offer them better housing conditions than our emergency shelter. This meant that our efforts led to families being housed instead of having to sleep in the gym.

    We are very proud of all our staff that has committed long hours and countless efforts in bringing this much needed stability to the lives of our families most in need. This is why we are disappointed that a recent Chronicle article choose to spin the success of our program by claiming it is a failure and a waste of money. The staff at BVHM wholeheartedly disagree with the publication and find it disrespectful. When a humble public school with limited resources chooses to open its doors to the most vulnerable because the political leadership in this wealthy City has failed to do so, we should be celebrated and supported not denounced.

    BVHM led the way in San Francisco in creating the City’s first emergency shelter program at a school site. Now that there are spaces available at the shelter, we should be proud that we are able to offer it for others in their time of need. It is not a waste of money to get our families off the streets. In the coming weeks, discussions will be happening at our school and across the District about expanding the program. We ask that you stand with us by expressing your support of the emergency shelter program and your agreement with expanding it to serve other schools in the District.

    Thank you for your time and consideration. ¡La lucha sigue!

    The staff at BVHM

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    1. People have worked hard on this, but if it isn’t the best thing for children, then people should be able to speak up without fear of being mobbed out and having their voices completely drowned out by a power group. This gym idea was never the best option for children experiencing homelessness. Maybe it advanced some personal careers, but it wasn’t the best way to help kids. There were better option that would have provided a safer more humane experience for the children and their families. That money should have been used differently, and no child should have to evacuate the gym by 7 am before going to school.

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