DENVER — A new surge of migrant arrivals in Denver putting a strain on city services and also impacting Denver Public Schools (DPS).
School district officials are working around the clock to help hundreds of migrant families, many of which are experiencing homelessness.
“We, on a daily basis, are having to hear from families, “I have nowhere to go. I'll be sleeping on the streets with my child and my children tonight,’” said Esther Rivera, manager of Denver Public School’s Homeless Education Network.
The Homeless Education Network helps ensure DPS is in compliance with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal law that requires public schools to give unhoused students, including migrant children, the same access to education as housed students. This includes providing them with transportation, tutors and ensuring they have access to basic school supplies.
It’s a tall order. And Rivera’s job would be challenging any year. But this year, the challenge is greater because of the surge of migrant families to Denver, many of them with school-aged children.
“We do get quite a bit of phone calls from families just asking us for help navigating anything from workforce development to housing, and food banks,” said Rivera. “We're hearing a lot of requests for just food and basic needs like that.”
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Because Denver only allows families to stay at shelters for 30 days, many of these students and their families are also unhoused.
“We probably have about 200 or so that we have identified through the beginning of the school year 'til now,” said Rivera. “When you're at a shelter for only 30 days, and then you have to leave that shelter, you might get housing, or you might end up on the streets in the complete opposite side of town.”
That's where Rivera and others in the Homeless Education Network come in. They help the district’s migrant families not only enroll their children in school, but also with transportation — beyond what the district typically provides to most students. Rivera said this could include helping students travel from one part of the city to another, using RTD, gas vouchers or other services. They also provide families with information about government services that may be available to them and even help the parents find job leads.
The Homeless Education Network must do it all very often through a language barrier.
“We haven't slept in a long time,” said Rivera. “And we've been short-staffed. So, that kind of added to that issue. And just having very, very long days, and taking longer to call folks back has been, you know, one of our biggest barriers, one of our biggest challenges.”
But Rivera saud the extra work is worth it because they get to help students thrive, no matter where they came from or what their living circumstances are.
“We're just really trying to connect with those families and offer our support in the best way we can,” said Rivera, acknowledging that much of what families go through is out of her office’s control.
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Rivera said many teachers across the district have stepped up on their own.
“I’ve had schools where teachers are donating sheets, blankets, you know, winter coating so that kids who are sleeping unsheltered have at least a blanket. Teachers are helping with food, even small donations, tapping into their local communities to get resources for the students,” said Rivera.
Rivera said the Homeless Education Network also provides cell phones to migrant parents to help them stay in touch with their children’s schools.
For more information about the Homeless Education Network, click here.