Berkeley school district supports food-insecure, houseless families

Photo of Willard Middle School
Nick Quinlan/Staff
The Berkeley Unified School District’s Homeless Outreach Program for Education provides services to students facing houselessness, such as transportation, food and temporary housing support. Services will continue into the holiday season.

Related Posts

As students navigate new normals amid a continuing pandemic, the Berkeley Unified School District continues to try to support its houseless and food-insecure families through a myriad of programs. 

According to BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott, the district’s Office of Student Services runs the Homeless Outreach Program for Education, or HOPE. The program is the McKinney-Vento program for the district, a part of the McKinney-Vento Act, a federal law that ensures that specific rights and services are provided to houseless youth. 

The purpose of the program is to ensure the identification, school enrollment, attendance, and opportunities for success of students experiencing homelessness,” McDermott said in an email. 

MKV eligible students include those who lack regular and adequate nighttime residence; those who are sharing housing with other people due to loss of housing or living in emergency shelters; those who are living in cars or other public spaces; and unaccompanied children whose living situations meet those above, among others, according to the National Center for Homeless Education. 

In BUSD, support provided for these students and families through HOPE includes, in part, transportation to and from school, school supplies, food and hygiene supplies and temporary housing assistance, according to McDermott. 

The program can also provide “enrichment opportunities” in both academic and summer terms, tutoring and referrals to other assistive services. 

The Berkeley Public Schools Fund, a nonprofit education foundation supporting BUSD schools, also funded the MKV coordinator for BUSD, according to Erin Rhoades, the executive director of the fund. 

“What we’re continuing to do ‘post-COVID’ is manage the Ed Hub and provide Task Runners,” Rhoades said in an email. “These services did not exist pre-COVID.” 

The Ed Hub is a distribution site for educational resources during the pandemic. Its drive-through site, located on the 1700 block of Curtis Street at the Berkeley Adult School, allows families to pick up “essential learning supplies,” and is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m, according to the fund’s website.

The distribution site also allows families to check out Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hot spots. 

The Task Runner team delivers one-time or ongoing deliveries to families who are unable to access resources otherwise, including school supplies or groceries

Jezra Thompson, supervisor for the BUSD Gardening and Cooking Program, said the staff of the program and students at Berkeley High School and Berkeley Technology Academy studying public health manage high school food pantries with the Berkeley Food Network. 

“Together, we are able to provide fresh produce, ready made meals, and pantry items for free to our school and City community,” reads the Gardening and Cooking Program website. “Students get real-world experience working with the community on healthy food access and are paid as part of their Career Technical Education internship.”

The Berkeley Technology Academy food pantry, located at 2701 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, is open on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., while the Berkeley High pantry is open on the first and third Tuesdays of the month from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Way between Bancroft and Allston ways. 

According to McDermott, the district has also provided free school meals during breakfast and lunch to all of its students. 

The district and city also plan to provide additional support for families during the holiday season. 

The Berkeley Public School Fund will be collecting money to go toward gift cards for district families in need, McDermott added. In addition, McDermott said, the city of Berkeley will be facilitating a Winter Holiday Fund for BUSD families.

Sebastian Cahill is the university news editor. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.