LONG BEACH PENINSULA — Peninsula students need some help, according to a new survey.
A survey sent out to Ocean Beach School District students emphasizes a need for several basic services. Middle and high school students participated in the survey, which was created by the Youth Educational Resource Center Committee.
The survey was used so the committee could learn from youth what their needs are, then help find them resources.
“Now we know what the needs are,” said Karen Humber, Peninsula Church of the Nazarene pastor and Peninsula Poverty Response at-large executive board member. “How do we develop a plan to move forward for our community?”
The committee was formed in January after Peninsula Poverty Response made the official announcement that the organization plans on opening a youth center by 2024.
“It could be a place for students to go, with resources all in one spot,” said Dawna Svaren, Peninsula Poverty Response chair and Ocean Park Lutheran Church pastor.
The goal behind the proposed center is to provide youth a safe place with adequate facilities, Humber said.
The committee includes Ocean Beach School District employees, Peninsula Poverty Response members, Pacific County Sheriff’s Office employees, and other community members.
The committee’s purpose is to serve the needs of youth in Pacific County through community partnerships.
“We’re investing in healthy, sustainable futures of youth through community collaboration,” Svaren said. “We’re not in competition with other organizations.”
The committee has met with key stakeholders and possible collaborators such as Crisis Support Network, the Pacific County Health Department, Willapa Behavioral Health and Coastal Community Action Program.
The survey was completed by a total of 334 Ilwaco High School, Hilltop Middle School and Ocean Beach Alternative School students. Most of the students who took the survey were 14 years old or younger. Of the students who participated, about half identify as male, and half as female.
“The survey says a number of things about the community,” said committee member John Hunsberger, who’s worked with youth for over 45 years.
Initial surveys went out to OBSD teachers and families during the 2017-2018 school year. Surveys were posted in public places like food banks, grocery stores and Pack 2 School. Questions asked of adults focused on the number of homeless students in the district and what needs students had.
“It’s wonderful that the group has taken on this project,” said OBSD Superintendent Amy Huntley. “The school district wants to work hand in hand with them. We want to be a partner and be supportive.”
In May 2019, the committee collected student responses.
Major takeaways from the survey show students have a need for a safe space, basic skills, caring adults, and a place with free food.
“So many of the things are so basic,” Svaren said. “We should be able to offer our kids these things.”
One survey question focused on what services students and their friends would benefit from. The most popular answer was a hangout space, with 257 students supporting the idea. Following answers were more serious, though.
Other popular services students listed included hot meals (31 percent), showers (26 percent), free clothing (26 percent), laundry (22 percent) and drug/alcohol classes (19 percent).
“Some youth are in tremendous need; socially, mentally and spiritually. We really owe it to help youth help themselves, help get them the resources they need,” Hunsberger said. “We ought to show our care not just when they’re in trouble.”
The most popular skill students said they or their friends would benefit was cooking, which 71 percent of students listed. Other popular skills listed included applying and interviewing for jobs, car care, filing taxes, budgeting and resume writing.
“A number of them said ‘We want adults who are with us because they want to be with us, not because they have to be,’” Humber said. “It’s nothing against teachers or professional staff; they just want more connections with adults who care and want to be there.”
About 22 percent of students said they or a friend would benefit from learning how to apply for food stamps. Sixty-four students said they or a friend would benefit from English language learning programs.
“Needs of youth typically go underserved. The Peninsula is just like any other community,” Hunsberger said. “We’re really facing the same issues as any other metropolitan.”
About 17 percent of students said they or one of their friends would benefit from overnight shelter.
Of 1,071 OBSD students, 14.9 percent, or 160 students, were considered homeless in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
However, the number of homeless students on the Peninsula is likely higher than what the state’s data shows. At OBSD’s July 24 board meeting, Huntley said about 20 percent of students are homeless. About 270 OBSD students are considered homeless, according to 2018 data from the Pacific County Economic Development Council.
Homelessness may look like living without basic housing needs such as electricity, heat and water. Homeless students may be couch surfing, or living in other temporary spots like cars and tents.
Sometimes, OBSD looks for overnight lodging for students who don’t have a safe space to stay, Svaren said.
Of the students who participated in the survey, seven identified as homeless.
About 74 percent of students said they believe there’s a need for a youth center on the Peninsula. When asked what they’d like to see at a youth center, many suggestions focused on life skills.
“It’s not just ‘I want a place to get pizza,” Humber said. “It’s ‘I might not need this, but I know people who do.’”
The planned center will have a kitchen and dining area, indoor recreation center, laundry room, mailboxes, showers and drop-in centers for local service providers.
“There’s some of our kids who are at loose ends that maybe are doing things that aren’t safe for them. It would be a place to go, be safe and get some of their basic needs met,” Huntley said. “It’s food and laundry but it’s also having mentors who can touch kids’ lives.”
The center is slated to also have childcare services, emergency housing and life skills classes. Free clothing, hygiene items and food will be available for youth and their families.
“We want to create a safe environment where youth are equipped with skills for building their future,” Humber said.
The center will be located near a bus line so those without cars can access services, Humber said.
School district response
Huntley plans on meeting with administrators to share the survey responses. She said the responses reinforced a lot of what the district has been seeing with students.
“Our administrative team needs to see those results, then decide what and how they want to share that with the teachers so they can get an idea of what our kids are demonstrating as their top needs,” Huntley said.
OBSD will continue serving students in ways such as providing laundry facilities and having free clothes for students, Huntley said.
Anyone interested in joining, helping or donating to the YERC committee can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-783-2688.