Back to School with Dignity

by Raúl Fernández-Berriozábal

With 2,352 homeless children in San Francisco, you can imagine that a significant portion of SFUSD students are returning to school short on some of the resources that they need. In collaboration with the SRO Families United Collaborative, My New Red Shoes is helping to make sure that schoolkids in shelters and residential hotels get the chance to start the school year off on the right foot.

My New Red Shoes is a program founded in 2006 to help homeless and low-income children look and feel confident as they start the school year by providing them with new clothing and shoes and by rallying youth and adults around this effort through volunteer and educational opportunities for individuals, families, schools, corporations, and community groups.

Since 2006, My New Red Shoes has provided a new pair of shoes, a $50 clothing gift card packaged in a hand-sewn gift bag with a volunteer decorated “Happy First Day of School” card and the gift of confidence to over 28,000 homeless and low-income children throughout the Bay Area promoting learning, improves school attendance, and enhances the self-esteem of children in need.

My New Red Shoes works in collaboration with the SRO Families United Collaborative, a multiracial, multilingual collaboration of five community-based organizations: Chinatown Community Development Center and Chinese Progressive Association in Chinatown, the Coalition on Homelessness in the Tenderloin, Dolores Street Community Services in the Mission, and South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN) in SoMa. The member organizations share the common goal of organizing and empowering families living in single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels. SRO hotel rooms were designed to be temporary residences for seasonal labor in the early twentieth century. Today, they serve as the housing of last resort for San Francisco’s low-income families—the last barrier between them and the street. However, entire families are crowded into single rooms, sharing kitchens and bathrooms with several neighbors. These conditions are especially hard on children.

“My New Red Shoes is very proud to partner with Chinatown Community Development Center and the SRO Families United Collaborative to improve the educational experience of homeless and low-income children by providing them with the gift of new school shoes and clothing. Thanks to our partnership with Chinatown CDC, which is now in its seventh year, My New Red Shoes has had the opportunity to help thousands of disadvantaged children start school happy, confident, and ready to learn.”

—Minh Ngo, My New Red Shoes, Executive Director

In San Francisco, every school has at least one homeless child; the number of homeless students has more than doubled over the past 10 years. In 2005, there were 844 homeless children in the city; today there are 2,352. This total means that one in every 25 students in San Francisco is homeless.

During the past school year, there were 613 homeless students temporarily living in shelters, 294 temporarily living in motels, hotels, and residential hotels, 1,419 temporarily doubling up, and 26 temporarily living unsheltered. However, San Francisco can stand out by taking steps to end family homelessness.

My New Red Shoes contributes to the opportunity to start school on a level playing field and to succeed for the many homeless and low-income children attending classes in the San Francisco Unified School District. In San Francisco, rents have risen a dramatic 25% over the past four years, while a 38% increase in evictions in the same time period has led to mass displacement. This economic situation has translated into a severe rent/income disparity that has been driving a rise in homelessness among families with children here in San Francisco.

Ruben is 15 years old and has been through a lot of transitions. Ruben hasn’t had new clothes for as long as he can remember. At 15, he is starting his sophomore year of high school, aware that his friends and classmates will be showing up with brand new school clothes, as they do every year. Ruben wasn’t expecting a gift card for Old Navy. He wasn’t expecting to show up on his first day of class with new shoes. When he got the gift card and the shoes, all he could do was stare at them. His eyes welled up and he looked up at his case manager and just said, quietly, “Thank you.”

This year, through the SRO Families United Collaborative, My New Red Shoes generously donated over 1,200 pairs of new shoes and gift cards for new clothing to homeless and low-income families based in Chinatown, the Mission, the Tenderloin, and South of Market areas.

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