NAMPA — When Renee Egusquiza’s family became homeless for the second time, she knew who to call to ensure her 17-year-old son would still get an education.
She started working with Natalie Sandoval, the Nampa School District’s homeless student liaison, in July to coordinate resources for her son’s schooling. Her son has several mental disabilities, including autism and ADHD. Without Sandoval’s help, Egusquiza said she doesn’t believe he would have access to an education.
“They’re a godsend, honestly,” Egusquiza said.
The Nampa School District has the highest homeless student population in Idaho, at about 10% of the district’s 14,000 students, Sandoval said. Her job is to protect these students’ educational rights.
Sandoval’s team includes one other full-time employee, one part-time employee and three interns. They are busy year-round, she said, but the start of the school year is typically the most demanding.
A big part of Sandoval’s job is identifying students who qualify as homeless, Sandoval said. She works under a broad definition of “homeless,” which includes many forms of unstable housing, like living in someone else’s house, in a shelter or in abandoned buildings.
After Egusquiza’s family was evicted in June, she said they lived in a car before moving in with her sister-in-law. The first time her family was homeless, they lived in a shelter, where a case manager helped connect Egusquiza to Sandoval.
Sandoval relies on teachers to notify her when a student exhibits signs of homelessness, and on partnerships with community organizations like shelters. Though Nampa’s homeless student population is high, she said homeless numbers are often underrepresented.
“People are ashamed,” Sandoval said. “People are afraid.”
If a family qualifies as homeless and has at least one student within the Nampa School District, Sandoval can assist all children in the family between the ages of 0-21, she said.
Once identified, Sandoval focuses on getting the students what they need. One of her priorities is keeping students at their original schools, she said, to keep their learning environment stable.
Egusquiza said she talks with Sandoval over the phone about once a week to go over her family’s most pressing needs. Sandoval helped organize a tutor for her son, coordinated busing to get him to school, and provided food and clothing for Egusquiza, her husband and her son.
Transportation is one of the most common needs among families in the district, Sandoval said. In addition to organizing bus routes, she also reimburses families for the miles they travel to get their students to school.
Students who qualify as homeless automatically receive free breakfast and lunch, and Sandoval’s team organizes food boxes for families that need it. She also makes sure students have the proper documents to attend school, such as vaccination records, and she helps families address housing barriers.
“We have got to keep our thumb on the necessary resources in our community,” Sandoval said.