In spring of 2021, a cohort of 11th grade students in Oakland High School’s Law and Social Justice Pathway tackled an issue that is devastating communities across California - the rising level of student homelessness. This project’s civic client was Oakland’s McKinney-Vento Coordinator, Trish Anderson, who welcomed youth insights on how to better identify and serve often-invisible unhoused students and families. 

OUSD currently has over 450 identified unhoused students and over 1,000 that are unaccompanied and in need of housing services and support from local institutions. Under the McKinney-Vento law, school districts are required to provide unhoused youth with full services and to use certain funds for specialized programming and support. In order to meet the needs of its young people, OUSD asked students to provide district leadership with recommendations.

Multiple classes in the Law and Social Justice Pathway researched pressing housing challenges impacting Oakland’s youth, such as gentrification, the rising cost of housing, displacement, and homelessness. Since students were ‘sheltering in place’ during the pandemic, digital tools, such as online surveys, deepened the rigor of their research. They collected and analyzed primary and secondary source data, including interviews with local youth and families, that shed light on barriers to securing stable and affordable housing, whether they themselves faced housing insecurity, and their vision for how OUSD can offer assistance. A student-developed survey of over 200+ individuals revealed key insights, such as:

>> Over 50% of respondents have felt the effects of housing displacement directly

>> 60% of respondents considered leaving Oakland due to the high price of housing

>> Over 90% of respondents indicated they were unaware of the McKinney-Vento Law, indicating a need to raise awareness.

Using this information, students worked in small teams to develop a series of policy and program recommendations. Then, these students presented these proposals to a diverse and high-powered Client Roundtable, which included Trish Anderson, school board members, OUSD’s Chief Academic Officer, community leaders, and more! A policy brief of students’ work and recommendations can be found here

Deeply impressed with their work, these leaders acted swiftly. Some of the project’s outcomes include: 

>> OUSD agreed to fund case workers to support the McKinney-Vento Office and team.

>> OUSD increased training efforts for all staff to be better prepared for future identification and support of unhoused students.

>> UC Berkeley’s Center for Cities + Schools (CC+S) launched a new Unhoused Student Research project and is currently working with the California Department of Education (CDE) Homeless Education Coordinator on improving statewide response to the needs of unhoused students and families.