SAN JOSE, Calif. - It is a shocking number: An estimated 15,000 high school seniors in California are experiencing homelessness. Now a pilot program in Santa Clara County aims to help homeless students with a guaranteed income just as soon as they graduate.
"It was a lot of staying with friends and figuring out how to make it work in my car," said Karen Tanveer, who was homeless during her high school career.
Tanveer attended three different high schools. As a high school student experiencing homelessness, she says it was impossible to learn under the circumstances.
"I think more than anything it has an impact on your mental state. It leaves you numb. I used to be in school, but I was never engaged. I used to always feel like I was an outcast," Tanveer said.
Santa Clara County is now launching a pilot program to give $1,200 a month to 50 graduating high school seniors who are homeless. The money is coming from the new state budget just signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on June 27, 2023.
"We are really trying to intercept the homeless population at this level – exiting high school seniors, or you could think of it as rising college freshmen," said State Sen. Dave Cortese, who represents Santa Clara County in the state Legislature.
Cortese says many homeless seniors don't go on to college -- and often drop out of society -- as federal aid ends at graduation, and they struggle with daily living. He hopes the guaranteed income program can help turn that trajectory around.
"It is one thing to give somebody a stipend for a few months and then pull the rug out again. But is this the kind of stipend that bridges them to the next way station?" Cortese asked.
The program will be administered by Santa Clara County, which will work out the eligibility for the first group of recipients. It is expected to be in place for homeless seniors graduating in 2024. Those who receive the grants will also have access to additional support, including both financial and peer mentors.
As for Karen Tanveer, she will not benefit from the program but hopes it helps others.
"When you don't have a plan, you don't really know what you are doing. So I feel like if I had any support, I would have been a lot more independent at the time," Tanveer said.
Tanveer is now planning to go to college and hopes to become a nurse.
If the program is successful in Santa Clara County, Cortese says he will work in the next legislative session to roll it out statewide.