Earlier this summer Project Hope Alliance CEO Jennifer Friend and new Director of Programs Nicole Delaney chatted with Tammy Trujillo on KLAA's Community Cares about why we're committed to ending the cycle of homelessness in Orange County. Here's what they discussed.
HOPE FOR THE HOMELESS OF ORANGE COUNTY
Orange County is home to wonderful beaches, Disneyland, Fashion Island, and affluent neighborhoods, but behind this prosperous exterior lies a startling reality: a growing number of homeless youth in Orange County. The problem smolders silently beneath the surface, and these kids are largely unseen and unheard. However, for the last 25 years, Project Hope Alliance has been helping to make a difference in their lives.
The Orange County Department of Education estimates that there are over 32,000 homeless youth in Orange County, but this is conservative estimate, and the number increases each year. Of this number, approximately 23 percent don't attend school regularly.
If education is the key to helping these kids escape poverty and homelessness, then without intervention, their ability to learn and contribute to the livelihood of Orange County is under serious threat.
The number of homeless kids in Orange County should not be surprising, when one considers that the region has a higher rate of per capita homelessness than the counties of Los Angeles and San Diego. Unfortunately, the plight of the homeless is lost on many members of our community, and this is perhaps one reason why more is not being done.
HOPE FOR THE HOMELESS
Homeless kids mostly live in motels, cars, shelters, and cramped rooms, and their physical instability is often accompanied by emotional instability. As a result, they are often unable to fit in, with so many getting lost in the educational system. Project Hope Alliance is trying to stem that flow. We are educating the community about the problem of homelessness, we are offering solutions, and most importantly, lives are being changed.
The mission of Project Hope Alliance is to end the cycle of poverty one child at a time. So far we have been able to make that a reality for 151 kids, and our next goal is to end homelessness for 500 kids in Orange County.
WHO WE WORK WITH?
We know we can't do it alone, so we partner with teachers in the classroom, the Department of Education in Orange County, and McKinney-Vento liaisons (federally mandated advocates for homeless children), to identify and help these kids.
We also work with other non-profits and specialists that do counseling and family therapy, to assist with the emotional well-being of kids and their families. This type of support is necessary, because homelessness comes with enormous stress and other emotional issues.
Studies show that under-education lies at the heart of the problem of homelessness. Children who live in transient circumstances and are constantly changing schools often lack the desire to learn. As a result, they lose interest in school. They regularly fall behind and never seem to be able to catch up.
We believe that if we can tackle the problem of education head on and assist kids with learning, it will go a long way in ending the problem of homelessness. So getting kids back on track with education is a big part of what we do.
WHAT WE DO
We pay for transportation to get homeless kids to and from school. We currently serve 350 kids in over 50 schools across Orange County. We also have an Education Program and a Family Stability Program in place to help kids and their families.
Education Program: The education program is aimed at improving literacy levels of homeless kids in all age groups. In order to do this we give kids the tools they need to develop the necessary skill sets, and we also provide them with the right opportunities to build up their academic experience.
For the very young kids, the 3 to 5 year olds, the emphasis is on early literacy. We include tools such as online learning solutions that will make education interesting and interactive.
We take the same approach for the kids in middle and high schools, but at the high school level we also focus on mentorship. Mentorship plays a big part here, as these kids often lack the self-confidence and self-belief that they can, in fact, achieve. Having someone who can provide the motivation, as well as a listening ear for their problems, is often just what they need to work hard and succeed.
Family Stability Program: The issue of homelessness is one that affects the entire family. The Family Stability Program is therefore aimed at moving families out of homelessness and into permanent housing by way of rapid re-housing. When children have a stable home environment, it significantly improves their emotional health, allowing them to better focus on school and learning.
We want the community to realize that the problem of homelessness affects everyone in the long run, so your support for our efforts is also essential. You can help by volunteering or making a secure donation online.
At Project Home Alliance, we sincerely believe that by working together we can continue to reduce homelessness in Orange County, ensuring that the future is healthy and bright for all of us.