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Homeless liaisons strive for stability for homeless youth

Needs remain great for many families in Beaverton


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Lisa Mentesana, right, and Sara Palestino talk about the challenges students face when they do not have stable housing. As the district's homeless liaisons, they offer support to students in need.The Beaverton School District and Washington County continue to see increasing numbers of homeless youth.

According to the school district’s homeless liaisons, Lisa Mentesana and Sara Palestino, homelessness is a continuous struggle.

As of Nov. 24, they had 841 children on their caseload compared to 695 students on the same date in 2013. That is an increase of 146 children, and those numbers only reflect homeless youth who schools know about. Others may be struggling, but have not reached out for assistance or shared their challenges with teachers or school staff.

The liaisons work with children and families by acting as resource guides to find housing and shelters, at least temporarily.

One solution they are working on is having families reach out to the faith-based community. Mentesana and Palestino connect with Beaverton-area pastors to set up outreach options for families in need.

Homelessness includes families who are in transitional housing, temporary housing or shelters, living in sub-standard conditions with little or no running water, unaccompanied youth, and families who “double up.” Doubling up is a very common issue among families who are awaiting assisted housing, where in some households, there can be one family per bedroom. Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sara Palestino and Lisa Mentesana connect homeless students in the Beaverton School District with community resources to help them remain in school.

According to Mentesana, the wait for housing can be as long as 12 weeks, leaving families to stay with anyone who will take them in.

“It’s a community effort to address this issue,” Mentesana said. “There are some long-term service providers in the county that we’re connected with.”

As the weather takes a turn and temperatures continue to drop, Mentesana and Palestino said there is an increase in the homeless population. Unfortunately, as of right now, Mentesana said they don’t know of a church willing to open up a cold weather shelter in Beaverton. Their dream would be to see the faith community in Beaverton consider taking in families on referral for temporary shelter, providing a safe haven while allowing students to remain in school.

Both Mentesana and Palestino’s first goal is to provide a stable education for youth, even in times of unstable housing. Housing instability issues can cause children to lose focus at school. When families have to leave their residence, sometimes even getting children to school can become difficult.

“We want to keep them connected to people who care about them and can provide support to them,” Mentesana said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s all they’re getting. They get to stay in school.”

Currently, all of the students being served by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal law that provides federal money for homeless shelter programs, are in school.

To support the district’s homeless student population, the liaisons serve as advocates to smooth the way for their young charges to continue their education without interruption. That support takes many forms, whether it is helping to coordinate transportation to and from school, providing students with gift cards or connecting families to programs that provide warm meals, temporary housing and job opportunities.

Although housing issues and wait lists are still being worked out, the homeless liaisons strive to provide their students with all the tools necessary to stay in school.

“We want to keep one thing in their life stable, and that’s their education,” Mentesana said.

You can help

The city of Beaverton and the Beaverton Police Department are teaming up to help local families and children in need this holiday season and are seeking donations of toys, gift cards and winter coats now through Dec. 15.

“The holidays can be a tough time for many families,” said Mayor Denny Doyle. “It’s so important that as a community we help those facing financial challenges. Your donations can really make a difference — bringing hope, comfort and joy at a time when families need it most.”

Donations of new, unwrapped toys will be accepted at The Beaverton Building, 12725 S.W. Millikan Way; the Griffith Drive Building, 4755 S.W. Griffith Drive; Beaverton City Library and Murray Scholls Branch Library; and various partnering businesses.

A full list of businesses is at beavertonoregon.gov/toydrive.

The library, The Beaverton Building and the Griffith Drive Building are also accepting gently used children’s coats, which will be donated to local, nonprofit organizations.

Struggling students will be given gift cards, which will allow them to choose what they need most — whether it is a warm meal, toiletries, or essential school supplies. Donations of gift cards will be accepted in the city’s Neighborhood Program Office, located on the fifth floor of The Beaverton Building. Gift cards will be distributed through the Beaverton School District’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Program.

Toys will also be accepted during the city of Beaverton’s Tree Lighting and Holiday Open House on Friday, Dec. 5, from 5-8 p.m. at the Beaverton City Library.

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