By Brian Rinker
At the beginning of every month Chris Shaeffer, director of the Homeless At Risk Transitional Students Program, and lab aid Tina Esquer hand out Muni fast passes at a reduced cost of $20 to students who are homeless, living in transitional homes and on parole.
The HARTS program also provides book vouchers, as well as vouchers for the cafeteria, to at-risk City College students.
“It’s a fabulous program,” said LaJon Janvier, a 50-year-old homeless student. “It has helped in a way that has made me a successful student. I couldn’t have succeeded in school without the HARTS Program.”
The students who participate in the program have special needs because of their homelessness. They often live in shelters and in cars. Transitional students live in rehab facilities and various programs, community housing clinics and single resident occupancy hotels, Shaeffer said.
The program had 167 students, ages 18 to 60, enrolled at the beginning of the spring semester. A quarter of the students are disabled, and the ethnic population continues to grow, especially among Latinos.
The growing number of students wanting to participate in the HARTS Program has forced Shaeffer to prioritize his clients. This can be a difficult process.
“Trying to prioritize people’s needs is hard,” said Shaeffer. “When a student walks through my doors their need is pretty important or they wouldn’t be here.”
A student who is at risk of being homeless no longer meets the requirements. To receive services a student has to be homeless or staying in a transitional home. Students must have a referral from a shelter or proof that they receive homeless services from any agency and then interview with Shaeffer.
Shaeffer has noticed an increase in students who have referrals from homeless service providers. He said this may be because case workers are realizing educational plans for their clients can be very beneficial for them. Academic and vocational skills increase a client’s employability potential greatly, and the services students receive for attending college – like the HARTS program, financial aid and federal subsidized loans – are crucial in developing them.
“Over the last 10 years there has been an amazing growth in the diversity of our program,” said Shaeffer.
Going to City College has really helped Rodney Austin, 47. He heard about HARTS while living in a transitional home for parolees.
“The case manager came into my room and said ‘Rodney, you want to get $5,000 for going to school?’” Austin said. “Can I get $10,000,” he added and laughed.
Austin spent 14 years in prison and has been on parole for 11 months.
The economic troubles of the last few years have been a contributing factor to the increase in homeless students attending City College, Shaeffer said.
The Extended Opportunity Services and Programs and the Second Chance program for paroled felons have recently had some funding difficulties, and students are turning to HARTS.
“The EOPS and Second Chance lost a lot of money and we’re helping them out,” said Shaeffer.
The HARTS Program also includes a comprehensive directory of homeless service providers in the community to help students find housing.
“We have some referrals from City College,” said Susanna Anderson, program director for Compass Connecting Point, a family service agency that helps find housing for homeless families and families in crisis. “Many of our clients have attended City College,” she added.
Compass Connecting Points works with families to obtain housing subsidies that may include an educational or vocational rehabilitation plan. Anderson said their main concerns are immediate housing needs or the removal of a family from crisis situation, but she agrees that an education can be an essential part of the rehabilitative process.
The number of students in the HARTS Program dropped to 141 after midterms. Reasons for students dropping vary: some can’t keep their grades up; others struggle with drug addiction, HIV and hepatitis C; one student was sent back to prison on a parole violation.