SANTA ANA, Calif. — Elida Sanchez, a social services liaison for the McKinney-Vento District within the Santa Ana Unified School District, recently called the family of a student who has been absent from virtual learning for several days.

“Good morning, this is Elida Sanchez from Santa Ana Unified School District speaking. How are you? Happy New Year,” said Sanchez.

What You Need To Know

  • The Orange County Department of Education reports there are homeless students in every district, but children who are the most at risk are in Santa Ana and Anaheim

  • There are a growing number of children living with their family in cars and storage units

  • Families are in need of blankets and heaters this winter

  • School districts are asking their communities and neighbors to help donate

Sanchez and a team within the district help school leaders identify students who are experiencing homelessness, whether they’re staying in a shelter with their families, renting rooms in homes with other families, sleeping in their car, or are on their own.

During our interview, Sanchez spoke on the phone with a mother of a 12-year-old girl.

"They were staying in a storage unit," said Sanchez. "During the day that’s where they are, and during the night they sleep in a garage."

The mother told Sanchez that her family lost their housing when one of them contracted the coronavirus. They’re in need of toilet paper, blankets, and a portable heater.

"She was mentioning that luckily the student was able to retrieve all of her materials and the hotspot," Sanchez said. "She said they don’t have a problem with connectivity, but they are asking for flexibility because they have to take the student to a park to be able to connect."

As a school district liaison and mother of a young daughter, Sanchez explained that she understands what these families are going through since she was just 10 years old when she came to the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor and lacked many basic necessities.

"I consider myself very fortunate to now be able to be in this role and to be able to educate others from my firsthand experience," she said. "I am able to remove the stigma of homelessness and the struggles these families face."

Depending on what each family needs, Sanchez and her team will into their stockpile of donated items where they’ll gather hygiene kits, backpacks and school supplies. Their goal is to help students meet their basic needs so they can focus on their education and prevent students from dropping out of school.

"The student is sleeping on the floor, and it’s cement," said Sanchez. "So the room gets really cold. So a heater and an inflatable mattress goes a long way for them."

The Orange County Department of Education reported that there are homeless students in every school district, but the number of students in need of help are highest in Anaheim and Santa Ana. There is a person at every school district that does what Sanchez does for her district.

Sanchez and her team are trying to keep up with the calls for assistance in hopes to help these struggling students focus on their education so they can break the cycle of homelessness.

To help students struggling to keep up with their education despite their family’s circumstances, please click here or reach out to Jeanne Awrey, director of the Orange County Department of Education’s homeless education program at or 714-966-4093.